Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Why "Fake News" matters to corporate executives too

The media – traditional and social media - and digerati continue with their soul searching after accounts that “Fake News” circulated on social media swayed the hotly contested American Presidential elections. After initially denying accounts of fake news propagated by Facebook users, Mark Zuckerberg publicly announced measures to take on the issue (Facebook’s fake news: We’re working on it)
Traditional media has been under tremendous pressure from digital media like blogs, wikis, online “media,” News Aggregators, RSS readers, and is using the fake-news issue to highlight the importance of “News.”  New York Times analyzes the issue, pointing to digerati and digital news aggregators
Most of the fake news stories are produced by scammers looking to make a quick buck. The vast majority of them take far-right positions. But a big part of the responsibility for this scourge rests with internet companies like Facebook and Google, which have made it possible for fake news to be shared nearly instantly with millions of users and have been slow to block it from their sites.
How this plays out is anyone’s guess; but digital experts and technologists are already proposing the way forward. In a popular post “,Four Ways to Deal with Fake News Online,” Jan Dawson highlights options like:
  • Do nothing — keep things more or less as they are. 
  • Leverage algorithms and artificial intelligence — put computers to work to detect and block false stories.
  • Use human curation by employees — put teams of people to work on detecting and squashing false stories.
  • Use human curation by users — leverage the user base to flag and block false content.
While all this plays out in the media, and behind the scenes solutions are rolled out by Facebook, Twitter, Google and others, corporate executives and technologists and digital strategists are taking note too. 

Why it matters to corporate executives?

Businesses depend on their reputation and closely watch media mentions about them and their brands. For instance, business school professors love the game where they challenge students to validate the multi-billion dollar valuations of soda makers like Coke or Pepsi, emphasizing branding, marketing and other reasons why consumers are willing to pay top dollar for mere “flavored fizzy water.” These companies gamely play along, highlighting how they guard their “secret recipes” in fort-Knox like secret vaults
A few examples why fake news matters to business leaders: 
  • Swaying consumer sentiment – Businesses continually monitor news that has potential to go viral and adversely impact the brand. For example, restaurant chain might monitor “waiter, there is a fly in my soup” or toy company will monitor “baby chokes on” and similar news, with the intent to react immediately. (It is probably easy to guess the keywords my employer, a multinational agri-business company would want to continually monitor)
  • Competitors and activists may try to unleash smear campaigns against new product launch or brand offerings; and such activities are continually monitored by corporate security and consultants. 
  • Misdirection. For example, planting “fake news” on a competitor, and watching how they react to it publicly can give clues to those planning Phishing, industrial espionage or other corporate activism. 
  • At times of major transformations, M&A, or announced layoffs corporate leaders closely monitor activities in Informal corporate networks (a.k.a rumor mills, watercoolers) to keep a pulse on employee sentiments. While forwarding links to “news” or articles may generally not be against corporate digital policies, those with malicious intent could conjure “fake news” to be forwarded to informal corporate networks. 
Even before the recent raucous over “fake news,” digital companies like, and other online reputation management services had been targeting corporate clients, SMEs and individuals extensively. They offer to monitor, manage, and improve the way companies and brands appear online, across search engines, online reviews, and social media.
While all eyes are on Facebook, Google, Twitter and others, innovative startups are bound to leverage advanced artificial intelligence techniques to bring some of these solutions to corporate clients too.  
End note: As the social media giants begin policing “fake news,” there is a risk of the pendulum swinging too far. In a case of throwing the baby-with-bathwater, it would be a shame if two of my favorite “fake news” sites - The Faking News and The Onion - and other satirical sites like these are also censored out.

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