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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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.