A draft public relations framework to tackle fake news

A draft public relations framework to tackle fake news

Public relations is on the front line in helping organisations tackle fake news. Here's how.

Fake news isn’t new. It’s as old as media itself. What is new is the speed that it is shared around the internet.

You can trace the history of fake news in the public relations business from Edward Bernays in the 1900s to Max Clifford in the 1980s. More recently from the Iraq War dodgy dossier in the early noughties, to campaigning during last year’s UK Referendum and US Election.

The term has become a catch all phrase to cover a range of content from stories that are completely made up, to blatant propaganda.

Public relations has an important role to play in helping organisations counter fake news.

Here’s a draft framework for practitioners. It’s a work in progress. Please let me know how it could be improved.

Crisis communications planning

Review your crisis communications plan to ensure that it is fit for purpose. Your risk register should already include misinformation spread via social media but ensure that it is updated to include fake news. Review responsibilities, content and workflow. Scenario plan for a fake news attack.

Upgrade monitoring solutions

Implement robust monitoring of online media and the social web for your company name, brands and key spokespeople. Set thresholds for when a fake news attack is likely to impact your publics. Have workflow in place to escalate responses.

Storytelling at speed

The news cycle no longer exists. Stories are spread at the click of a button amplified by our social networks. Align relevant operational areas of your organisation so that you can counter fake news quickly.

Live your values

A value is only a value if you are prepared to defend it. Organisations under scrutiny from campaigns such as Stop Funding Hate must be prepared to respond, and where necessary take a stand and share their point of view.

Rapid rebuttal to counter attacks

Move quickly counter to positively rebut fake news. Do not republish attacks. Instead share positive content that counters fake news via owned, shared media channels and third party influencers including traditional media.

Paying to play

Paid media provides the means to directly counter fake news in networks. Investment in paid search and promotion on social media sites can go a long way to countering an attack. Have the skills and budget in place for paid planning and targeting.

Employees as advocates

Everyone in an organisation has a role in helping counter a fake news attack. Employees are frequently an organisation’s most powerful reputational asset. Share content far and wide and encourage employees to use their own networks.

Satire has a place; don’t over react

Recognise the difference between fake news and satire. Media outlets such as The Onion and Private Eye that take a contrarian view have an important part of a functioning democracy. Any response to satire should be appropriate.


There are numerous ongoing efforts to encourage online publishers to tackle distribution of fake news. Lobby platforms including Facebook, Google and Twitter to implement verification schemes for media, and mechanisms for users to report and flag fake news.


Hire practitioners and communication teams that adhere to an ethical code of conduct set out by an appropriate industry association. Public relations agencies should work to an ethical framework. In the UK both the CIPR and PRCA have robust ethical frameworks and escalation procedures in the event of a breach.

At Ketchum we're working to help organisations around the world manage their reputation in this era of internet-driven fake news. Please get in touch if you'd like to discuss its potential impact on your organisation.

Image by Matthew Ingram via Flickr.

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