Three ways for PR pros to stand for truth when facts are fluid
As a kid debating my parents on whatever I thought was the world’s latest injustice, my mother would often counsel, “Saying it louder doesn’t make you right.”
Mom was obviously unfamiliar with the internet.
Most trending newsfeeds these days evoke riotous screaming contests.
“Fake news” and “alternative facts” have entered the lexicon. The collective concept of reality is getting warped and it’s increasingly hard to converse publicly with civility or depth. What’s worse, our technology is easily manipulated and misused to amplify fallacious arguments, which is one reason why jerks and no-nothings get to monopolize everyone’s attention.
In the communications business as in life, this problem stretches far beyond spin.
The creation and promotion of purposely misleading or brazenly fabricated information in the guise of news is a dangerous blight. Just a few years ago, we’d all laugh when silly headlines from The Onion made it into the “real news” cycle. But we’ve since progressed to a world of PizzaGate, safe products that aren’t, crackpots influencing government policy, international disinformation campaigns, and an inability to discern fact from fiction. It’s no longer funny.
Everyone engaging in professional communications has a duty to help fix this problem by standing up for truth.
This isn't something that will be sorted out in newsrooms. It extends to what we all post on our blogs, share on social media, choose to include in OpEds, PowerPoints, whitepapers, press releases…you name it.
Regardless of what is going viral, what appears to be effective according to the latest automated performance metric, or what you feel pressured to produce by advisors or clients, ethical discourse matters.
We all have to live in the world we shape with our narratives.
Do your part to shore up reality by keeping your own evangelism in check and shunning the creeps who’ve hijacked thoughtful conversation.
Embody these attributes in your public dialog and hold both internal and external communications teams — and yourself — to these standards.
1. Be honest
Authenticity is priceless. If your client hopes to do or be something, go ahead and say so. But be transparent about where they are in that pursuit. Don’t inflate or misrepresent the situation just to spice up a story, advance a brand objective, or win some pageviews. A bent toward hyperbole is an affront to truth and can easily snowball into catastrophe. (Theranos, anyone?)
Conversely, feel free to tout real value and successes far and wide. Openly share vetted and verified data and hard-won experience. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with staking a claim, so long as you back it up with facts.
2. Check your sources
Pause before you cite or share “found” content on social media or search engines: Do the links trace to valid data? Who are the sources? Where did referenced statistics or images come from?
Assertions from screamy red-faced radio hosts and Macedonian teenagers may be entertaining to some, but that doesn’t make their screeds true — and their pronouncements most certainly do not carry the same weight as analysis from Gartner or Gallup or Pew. We can no longer rely on the notion that if anything seems too weird to be true, it probably isn’t.
But if you come across something astonishing that the international press corps has somehow overlooked, Snopes it before you share it.
3. Do your duty
If you are a subject matter expert, please stand up. If you represent an expert, nudge them into the debate.
Our world would be poorer if Carl Sagan never eviscerated pseudoscience, Marc Andreessen never suggested that software is eating the world, or Clayton Christensen never asked how to measure a life’s work. We need real expertise and analysis.
In the words of Louis Pasteur, “knowledge belongs to humanity and is the torch which illuminates the world.” Do not let the flow of information continue to be dominated by trolls and bots. Contribute genuine knowledge to the conversation and you are contributing to the cause of truth
Deirdre Blake is senior content manager for Silicon Valley public relations firm Sterling Communications, where she provides editorial coaching services to thought leaders in IoT, enterprise integration, analytics, and other innovative technologies. She was also longtime Managing Editor at Dr. Dobb’s Journal, covering software development, programming languages, and technology news.
Photo via Pixabay