Nothing can be more damaging to professional’s reputation than spreading false information – even by accident. In the media industry especially, where public trust is absolutely crucial for maintaining an audience, perpetuating a hoax can impact the bottom line. Learning how to identify and manage false information before disseminating it is just as important a skill to develop in the communications world as is writing or editing.
The first thing to consider is that, regardless of the accuracy of what is posted, once someone has spread information they are responsible for the repercussions. If a news outlet spreads a false story, even issuing a retraction won’t do much to restore their audiences’ trust in the rest of their published information. The best way to deal with false information is to never post it to begin with.
Social media is an especially dangerous outlet for hoaxes. False information spreads quickly and easily with little fact checking. Fake posts about Facebook changing to a monthly fee based business model regularly make the rounds on the site and still find their way into professional blogs and magazines. It is important when looking at any story, but especially ones gathered from social media, to investigate and verify sources and ensure the story’s validity.
Another simple skill is the use of critical thinking when it comes to news. As an example, another Facebook hoax that occasionally arises comes in the form of a lengthy paragraph of legal jargon meant to be posted in a status stating that Facebook is forbidden from disclosing or distributing any information posted by the user. However, the express purpose of Facebook is to distribute information from the user to other users. Facebook also openly advertises to users based on their preferences and provides some information to companies for marketing purposes.
This is the Facebook business model, and it is written into their terms and conditions for all users to see. It is ridiculous to think that a paragraph shared through a status would provide any legal ground to stand on or impact the terms and conditions a user already agreed to. Thinking critically about hoaxes cloaked in legal jargon or academic language could help a media outlet distinguish fact from fiction early on.