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Sex Up the Truth to Battle Fake News

by Howard Fencl, Hennes Communications.

Lies cut deeper and travel faster across social media than the truth, and it seems there is little truthsayers can do about it, according to M.I.T. data scientists in a new study published this week in Science.

“The effects were more pronounced for false political news … We found that false news was more novel than true news, which suggests that people were more likely to share novel information.”

Fake news is alluring. It fires up emotions. It boils your blood. And, according to the study, it compels you to share it with your followers, who share it with more followers. Social media has evolved into a highly effective, highly exasperating 24/7 outrage machine.

The study, reported by the Atlantic, is bleak enough – but the prognosis is even more ominous: “…social media seems to systematically amplify falsehood at the expense of the truth, and no one—neither experts nor politicians nor tech companies—knows how to reverse that trend,” writes Atlantic freelancer Robinson Meyer.

We can’t just throw our hands up in the air and accept that lies win on social media. For years, we’ve been posting tactics you can use to fight back when your company is under even the most unrelenting troll attack. But those tactics may just not be enough given the sheer number of happy liars trashing up Twitter, Facebook and the like.

We have to embrace a truthy mindset that starts with a hard reality: Facts are boring. Nobody cares about boring writing, much less wants to share it. Too many of us are content with putting out a fact, brushing our hands off and walking away, figuring we’re on the record and we’ve done our jobs.

Think about news reports that fire up your emotions and inspire you. Wait a minute – you can’t? Not surprising. Sadly, I worked in too many newsrooms that were content to grind out mundane content to fill the time hole in news shows. A proud recitation of journalistically confirmed facts that no one would remember or care about once Wheel of Fortune came on after the news show. It’s only the highly-produced, deeply researched and provocatively presented investigative journalism that seems to ignite our souls and burn in our memories. There’s a reason “60 Minutes” has lasted more than 50 seasons.

So what can you do?

  • Make your news sexier. I don’t mean sleazier or sensational. But take a hard, honest second look at your news release draft. Is it full of acronyms, jargon and insider baseball? If the answer is yes, rewrite it so your teenager would understand it – and want to read all of it. Strip out all the passive voice. Use action verbs and unexpected adjectives. Find the emotion in your story, highlight it and suddenly your writing resonates. Do everything you can to get the dull out.
  • Proactively seek social allies. You can no longer post your news to social platforms and walk away with your fingers crossed hoping it will somehow become viral. You’ve got to work to make it happen. Who are the stars following you who have amassed thousands of followers? Get aggressively proactive and ask them to retweet your content. Who are the influencers in your industry niche you can poach? Florida Paints recently hired a 22-year old who attracted 2.4 million TikTok followers – an enviable demographic for any company looking to grow and influence a huge, up-and-coming consumer buying segment.
  • Stop legitimizing fake news. We’re all just as titillated by outrageous posts as the trolls who spread them. Like the news media, many people have a tendency to share disinformation with an indignant or outraged comment: “Can you believe this?” “This is B.S.” You’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve done it. It just promulgates the lies and exposes them to an even broader social media audience. Don’t give salacious content any more oxygen. Stop that practice. Just stop.

Surprisingly, the M.I.T. study says that truthsayers are in the majority on social media. Robinson Meyer wrote “Users who share accurate information have more followers, and send more tweets, than fake-news sharers. These fact-guided users have also been on Twitter for longer, and they are more likely to be verified. In short, the most trustworthy users can boast every obvious structural advantage that Twitter, either as a company or a community, can bestow on its best users.”

But trolls win the numbers game, retweeting and sharing with millions of like-minded people. You’ll never win over the most hardcore fake news acolytes, though you have a shot winning the undecided masses on the fence on your issue and evangelizing your true believers. But you can’t be complacent. Your mom was wrong. The bully won’t just go away if you ignore him.




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