Misinformation is on the rise. Where does that leave communicators?

By March 21, 2024No Comments

What to think about the rise in misinformation when your job is shaping narratives

There’s a half-serious axiom known as Brandolini’s law. It states that the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude greater than that required to produce it.

It’s not a totally new idea, but it does sum up the predicament of the moment.

With what promises to be yet another contentious election later this year in the US, emotions are likely to run high. As we’ve seen in the recent conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, social media’s combination of incentives for sensational semi-true or false content and greased rails for its spread has barely changed despite almost a decade of evidence that Something Must Be Done.

And now, however amazing the technology, generative AI promises to further flood the zone with easy-to-produce, difficult-to-refute nonsense – and that’s not even mentioning deepfakes.

How can communications professionals react, when the information environment has become more toxic and less reliable than ever before?

This huge (and growing) problem places a great deal of responsibility on communicators. In an era when so-called ‘alternative facts’ are easy to come by, authority and credibility are at a premium.

Journalists need accurate, BS-free information, and it’s our job to give it to them. We need to be mindful that reputations for accuracy and responsibility take years to build up, and seconds to destroy – and we have our own roles to play in their maintenance.

Is that portion of coverage, that headline, that image that pleases a client, ultimately in everybody’s best interest if it contributes even a small crack to those reputations?

The impetus does seem to be toward self-regulation

Attempts to regulate social media went nowhere, suggesting attempts to regulate AI will go the same way – so the onus is on practitioners to hold ourselves to high standards, even if bad actors actively do the opposite.

Clarity, accuracy, speed, the aggressive correction of inaccuracies, even more aggressive correction of falsehoods: the rise of misinformation has made all the traditional pillars of comms campaigns all the more important.

What the future holds is of course a mystery – but it seems fair to say that the economic pressures that have both decimated legacy media and encouraged online misinformation aren’t likely to go anywhere.

Should we resign ourselves to an ever more suspect information space? In truth it’s hard to be optimistic, but all we can do is encourage both our colleagues and competitors to be responsible citizens. We can’t change the macro, but we can change the micro.

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