Pew says “fake” news is creating real issues online

You can’t throw a rock these days without hitting a headline about “fake” news. It’s all the rage, and it has people from across the political and media spectrum in a rage. On one side you have those who believe “fake” news contributed to Hillary Clinton’s campaign loss. On the other, you have those who believe all the hype about “fake” news is a way to stifle free speech and blackball alternative “news” sources.

But what’s the real impact of all this “fake” news? Is it having the impact those who want to ban it are fearing, or is it just another way for the mainstream media to stifle the admittedly ultra-biased dissent from online political blogs?

According to a Pew Research Center survey, as reported by the Associated Press, at least 66 percent of American adults believe fake news stories are responsible for “a great deal of confusion” regarding the “basic facts” of current events.

While you can still grab the ridiculous tabloids at the checkout line of the grocery store, fake news online is much more difficult for many folks to spot. It comes from sites that look legitimate, and it is set up to look very similar to legitimate news.

How pervasive is this issue? According to the survey, up to one-third of all respondents said they “often” encounter fake news stories online. Worse, less than half of those people surveyed said they were “very confident” they could spot fabricated news online. Somewhere near 45 percent said they were “somewhat” confident they could do so.

And what really brings all this down to the lowest common denominator? About 25 percent of people admitted to having shared a fake story they knew or suspected to be fake. Some did it for laughs, some because they liked how it made them feel, some because they agreed with the sentiment of the story, if not, precisely, the facts.

What does all this mean for brands hoping to promote themselves and improve their market share in 2017? You need to get a strong narrative out and keep pushing it. Just one fake news story, if it goes viral, could create a PR mess you work all year to clean up. Because, once people believe something, they have a very difficult time giving up on that belief. In a “grab and go” media culture, it may only take one headline to make a lasting impression.

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