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Astroturfing, deep fakes, hoaxes, an infodemic–why rely on social for news when it can't be trusted?

summary: Thanks to social media, everyone’s a journalist. But in the court of social media the rules of fairness don’t apply, and the level of influence is often quite disproportionate to the truth. Reputation loss happens fast, and the way companies deal with it plays a key role in how much damage is done. There’s no moratorium on reputation. Will your coronavirus crisis response attract the right sort of attention now? What about after? Your reputation depends on it.


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Thanks to social media, everyone’s a journalist, but not necessarily an ethical one who lets the facts get in the way of a good story. Because only professional journalists are bound by the codes of truthfulness and fact checking.

Social gives everyone a voice, regardless of their platform or intention. According to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook prioritises allowing people to express themselves – even if they get things wrong. The question of content regulation is a complex one. Speaking at the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February 2020 he said Facebook should be treated like something in between a telco and a newspaper.

An infodemic creates anxiety and confusion

In social channels misinformation about coronavirus has spread faster and further than the virus itself. Before coronavirus we worried about astroturfing, deep fakes and hoaxes. Now the sheer volume of the infodemic and the message redundancy of a constantly changing crisis make it impossible to keep up. Social’s ability to both inform and mislead is a real issue when you consider almost three quarters of Facebook users say they use it as a way to get news.

The court of social media is not a democracy

Social media allows stories to be shared at lightning speed, irrespective of the facts. And the rules of fairness don’t apply. Perception and reality are often misaligned, but judgement is swift in the court of social media, and rarely do you get the right of appeal.

There is no moratorium on reputation - even in this coronavirus crisis

The risk of disconnect is greater in a crisis. Thanks to social media what you said or did in the past will always be on record, able to be shared instantly in a way that makes it appear to be current. Because social makes it so easy to dredge up the past, it effectively collapses the timescale, so currency is determined by time of viewing.

By virtue of the fact this current crisis is such a unifying experience, brands and businesses are afforded some ‘crisis licence’ if you will, but there is no moratorium on reputation, and you can’t ‘hibernate’ it either. From the other side, when this is all over, that licence will be revoked, and you’ll be judged by how you behaved. The real risk is that what seems reasonable or unavoidable now won’t look the same in a future context.

Top tips to keep calm and carry on

When people look back, their experience should strengthen their connection, preference and loyalty to you so if I can leave you with a few thoughts:

  • Resist the urge to turn out the lights and hide under your desk until this passes - your reputation won't be where you left it

  • Don’t forget who you are, show up the way you’re expected to at every opportunity - let your values guide you and stay true to your purpose.

  • Run the post-crisis ruler over everything you say and do to inspire trust and confidence vs create anxiety or confusion.

If you’d like to talk more about the effectiveness of your current coronavirus response, and how you’ll be viewed from the other side, we’d love to hear from you.

About the reputation continuum

A strategic approach to managing reputation risk, to minimise the commercial damage caused by reputation loss. We can support you with comprehensive preparation, strategic management and recovery planning.

For more information: thereputationcontinuum.com

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