Digital media: Social media and fake news

Never before have social channels tightened their privacy policies as much as they are currently doing to combat misinformation.

Digital media: Social media and fake news

From the ‘news’ about the presence of plastic particles in ITC’s Aashirvaad atta to the latest example of an imposter dressed as an army official spreading false news about Kerala floods and the government, the use of social platforms to spread misinformation has become widespread. The reputation of and trust in social media has also taken a hit globally, with big ad spenders like Unilever and Procter & Gamble cutting back on digital budgets. No wonder then, that social channels have turned more watchful and restrictive with the prevailing issue of fake news and privacy concerns.

Twitter and Facebook are combing through profiles and pages to contain the spread of rumours and fake news. WhatsApp too has limited the number of forwards that can be sent at a time to five. With government regulations and platforms changing their guidelines frequently, brands and marketers clearly need to be watchful when getting the message across to consumers.

Treading cautiously

With fake social media engagements, fake followers/influencers, bot traffic, etc being rampant, marketers need to be cautious about social media mentions, say experts. In fact, 5-7% of the TG that brands target on social platforms during a marketing campaign usually turns out to be fake social profiles or bots, says an industry expert.

“Now, social media is no more just a communication or marketing platform; it affects businesses directly,” says Sahil Shah, VP, operations and media — West and South, WATConsult. Brands are also cautious when they look at collaboration with third-party content portals. “While digital earlier had the charm of being gimmicky, now brands need to be more straightforward here,” says Pooja Gururaj, lead, channel and social media, VML India.

Clearly, gone are the days of tactics like clickbait stories and pushy communications. Over the years, the power has gone back to honest brand messages and quality engagement.

Guidelines and measures

Social channels have turned more watchful in light of all this. For example, Facebook has created policies that remove content that may be identified as spam or hate speech. It also has a new policy for ‘coordinated inauthentic activity’. This label not only applies to fake news but to misinformation campaigns as well. Twitter, on its part has strict norms on purchase, or attempt to artificially inflate account interactions.

Marketers, thus, need to be watchful of emerging new guidelines on social media. Gururaj explains, “Social channels are looking out for any type of excessive social media engagement. Brands need to adhere to new guidelines so that the communication which is genuinely well received by audiences is not misinterpreted.” But when it comes to fake news, WhatsApp has the highest stakes involved. It is being currently used by one-fourth of the Indian population on daily basis. Just when brands were planning to use it for marketing communication, it has bigger problems to address, namely, the epidemic of fake news.

“Brands should keep experimenting on curating better, being more transparent and tightening the grapevine — which is under their control to win the battle,” says Shrenik Gandhi, CEO, White Rivers Media. In fact, a brand should engage with influencers on a long term basis and not tactically. “So that when there is an issue of fake news, these advocates can help mitigate it,” says Sanjay Vasudeva, CEO of BuzzOne, an influencer marketing platform.

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