By Andrew Ong
Since the early days of the internet and social media, fake news has been rampant, often slandering companies, brands and public figures.
Often, the fake news goes viral because members of the public spread around unfounded news on the internet, either out of malice, self-interest or ignorance.
The open nature of the internet and social media makes it easy for anyone to publish news stories, and in most cases, those who do it often lack reporting skills.
Many companies over the years have suffered from these types fake news.
Paying a hefty price for false information
A piece of fake news circulating the Internet, and on Facebook regarding famous shoemaker Bata Primavera alleged the company was selling shoes with the word Allah inscribed on shoe’s soles.
Many were outraged by these unfounded rumours, and due to this incident, Bata had no other choice but to remove 70,000 pairs of the B-First school shoes from its 230 stores in Malaysia.
This whole fiasco cost Bata RM500,000 in losses; not only did they have to spend money to recall and transport the shoes, but they also had to make a new batch of shoes to put on shelves to replace the ones they recalled.
The shoes only returned to the shelves after the Al-Quran Printing Control, and Licensing Board of the Home Ministry cleared the shoemaker of the allegation on 30th March.
Some months ago, AirAsia attracted unwanted attention when their brand was used in a supposed ‘free ticket’ survey and fake ticket scam.
This isn’t the first time AirAsia has been a victim of fake news. Back in 2014, a scammer who claimed to represent the airline sent mass emails to the public, attempting to solicit personal information from users.
“The impact of fake news to individuals, companies, organisations and even the nation, is very significant,” said the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia Malaysia, Chief Officer Network Security New Media Monitoring Compliance And Advocacy Sector Dr Mazlan Ismail.
Combating fake news together
MCMC has a media campaign on TV, radio, traditional and digital for people to utilise the portal sebenarnya.my to give information of any possible fake news for the necessary follow up with the relevant government agencies,” added Dr Mazlan.
Elaborating more on the portal, Mazlan shared that sebenarnya.my is a one-stop-centre for Malaysians to report and check unverified news that they have received or noted online, via either social media, instant messaging service, blogs, websites and other social media platforms.
He added that the website is the brainchild of MCMC to counter fake news online that can have a national or societal impact, in which the authenticity can be verified by official channels or relevant government agencies.
Keeping your brand safe
In an unregulated environment keeping your brand safe can be hard.
Earlier this year media giant Google was hit with a major scandal when a series of reports revealed that video ads from reputable brands was appearing on YouTube videos which carried extremist content.
Almost overnight, major brands including L’Oréal, Pepsi, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson and more pulled their ads from YouTube. This reportedly resulted in millions of losses in ad revenue for the video streaming platform.
Star Media Group’s digital services general manager Yee Wing-Tak explained that problem that landed YouTube in hot water was that it has no control over the content uploaded to the site, with 400 hours of videos uploaded every minute, according to reports.
“Unless they have a lot of people to vet each video, there is no way to flag the offensive ones,” he said.
The 46-year-old media company has always paid close attention to ensure that none of its 8 million monthly online visitors come across content that promotes racism, hate speech, terrorism or the like.
“We have been a trusted partner of advertisers, and we practise transparency in ad placements. Companies know for sure that their advertisements will appear on established websites belonging to Star Media Group,” Wing-Tak added.
Handling a fake news crisis
According to industry key expert Ivlynn Yap Cheng Theng, the Founder & Managing Director of Citrine One, there were several ways in handling a fake news crisis.
First, identify what type of fake news it is, then assess the impact and seriousness of the fake news.
Next, look for the right person to address the fake news; if the company doesn’t have a communications team, form a communications team or engage a professional PR consultant to manage the situation.
Finally, send in a report and add into ‘address fake news’ folder for future reference and submit to sebenarnya.my, by MCMC that accumulates all fake news spotted, shared or reported in Malaysia and elsewhere.
“Unless your brand is not popular, you won’t be a target. Fake news usually happens to popular and well-known brands as the damage and impact can be tremendous and far-reaching. Hence, one can’t safeguard oneself from being a victim of fake news when one is a popular brand.” Ivlynn said.
She further commented the ability to properly handle a crisis in the social-media space is where your mind and analytical skills will truly be put to the test.
“Ultimately, being unprepared is no excuse. If you know the threats or potential threats, get ready for them. For the spokesperson/s, you are the major actor, take your role seriously. There is no space to flounder when providing facts. You must know what you want to say before they ask,” she explained.
While Ivlynn’s advice was for brands who are faced with the crisis Star’s Wing-Tak shared how brands can avoid the damaging situation.
He explained how the brand always ensures that their client’s ads are customised to the right demographics, interests and behaviour based on their pool of audience data.
“In short, advertisers have to be aware of where they place their ads. Is it a reputable, safe source of content?
“They should think of the implications to their company if their brands appear in sites with less-than-ideal content,” he advised.