How Fake News Promoted Positive Change


‘Post-truth’ might have been 2016’s Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year but given its ubiquity, many people will probably be more familiar with the phrase ‘fake news’. Acknowledging its role in media, Facebook has announced the Facebook Journalism Project, one of the main purposes of which is to deprioritise fake news on the platform and to restore trust in the most-seen content.

Details of the project are of great interest to communications and marketing professionals in a number of ways. Firstly, from the perspective of fake news and a world of post-truth communication. The former leverages the latter, taking advantage of “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford Dictionaries). Facebook has reinforced its desire to curb news hoaxes by introducing new measures for users to report them. It is also working to promote news literacy and the understanding of trustworthy sources by committing to financial investment, working with third party fact checkers and increasing commitment to establish a virtual verification community for ‘eyewitness’ content as part of the First Draft Partner Network.

Hopefully these moves will bring an end to death hoaxes and pluralistic political events defined by mud-slinging rather than policies. That said, while some individuals and media outlets (if one can call a proprietor of false information a media outlet) are focused on, at best, misinforming, we can still learn from the manner in which they create content: stories that have an emotional appeal will shape opinion. In a world where, despite the plethora of platforms, it is more difficult to generate earned media coverage and penetrate the artificial echo chambers we create, we must harness customer insight and emotional storytelling to have an impact.

Secondly, tied to the emotional context of content, is the desire to be topical and leverage trends. As part of the project, Facebook has made this easier. It has acquired Crowd Tangle - a platform which aids in content discovery, benchmarking performance and identifying who is sharing content - and is making it more widely available to publishers. Facebook’s move reinforces the need to actively track conversations, not only in terms of trends, but also in terms of brand and product mentions. They can understand where and how conversations are taking place, giving them an opportunity to amplify impactful earned coverage and engineer casual encounters with key stakeholders.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the project gives communicators an indication of how journalists - a major group of stakeholders in shaping public opinion - are utilising media platforms. Stories In Motion research conducted by WE shows that earned media is the biggest driver of sentiment but that, in a world of multiple devices and multiple platforms, it must be shared across channels to be truly impactful. Facebook’s broadening of tools available to journalists and publishers reinforces these findings. Tools to display multiple instant articles in one post - creating a smoother browsing and discovery experience for the reader - have been launched, integrations with publisher business models – such as free trials for engaged readers – are being explored and journalists will now be able to broadcast live on their publisher’s page, via their own profile, to aid real-time reporting. It is essential to consider how a story will look in multiple channels. Simply pitching a story to media is unlikely to be effective; rather, communicators need to create content packages which enable media to tell stories in multiple channels, on their site, on Facebook and beyond.

Journalists and publishers continue to be the most influential of opinion-shapers, but the use of social media is essential to them reaching the public. The two must work hand-in-hand and the Facebook Journalism Project is an industry-leading initiative taken to ensure Facebook remains the partner of choice for journalists.