Especially at this time, we find it useful to understand the information correctly. There is an increasing number of false messages on social media, but also in other information channels. Mr Schober, what does the term disinformation actually mean?
Perhaps the most succinct way to put it is that it is the deliberate dissemination of false information with the aim of influencing the thinking, behaviour or attitudes of a particular group of people.
How does Czech society fight disinformation?
The intensive spread of misinformation in Czech society has already been perceived by many professional organisations dealing with communication and marketing. It is a big challenge for communication professionals. I consider the Nelež initiative to be the most visible fighter against disinformation and disinformation websites.
Does the usual disinformation website have any features by which we can clearly detect it?
Disinformation sites have a lot in common. They like to offer miraculous recipes for cancer, they flaunt Soros, they use words like maidanization or new world order.
This is asy to see. But what if, when I visit a particular website, I see an advertisement for a company I trust, and that makes me feel that the website I just visited can be trusted? How to be cautious in this case?
Unfortunately, such advertising gives disinformation sites credibility, directly supports their traffic and at the same time poses a reputational risk for the advertiser. However, the Nelež initiative mentioned above seeks to eliminate banner advertising on disinformation sites.
What about the lyrics? How can I tell if an article is not true? What to look out for?
In today’s hectic times, it’s easy to make a mistake. Such an article is usually written by an unknown author about whom you can find nothing on the Internet. There is a picture next to the article that is not related to the text, the source is not mentioned and it causes fear. Use Google Image Search to find out in what context the image has been used in other texts. Another hallmark of misinformation articles is an attack on an individual or group of people. And the lack of opposing viewpoints, different perspectives or expert opinion is a warning sign. If we have doubts about the credibility of the text, then we can further answer the questions: does the headline itself match the content? Is it trying to catch my attention by inviting me to something that is not in the report? Is the ad visibly and clearly separated from the rest of the content? Is the author of the message trying to manipulate me, to get me to take an action by evoking emotions? All of this can help us form an objective opinion about a particular message.
What would you recommend companies do to best prepare for disinformation?
Just as you have to follow certain regulations on the road, in this “online communication” I recommend following a few key principles under APRA*:
- Define. Be clear about what misinformation is, how to identify it, where it most often comes from.
- Explain. Educate those around you about the risks of misinformation.
- Do not advertise on disinformation sites. This is a reputational risk to your organization and encourages the spread of misinformation. Support reputable media, you need it to do your job!
- Do not report on these sites. Operators and editors of disinformation media are not the same partners for a PR professional as regular journalists. Disinformation media can be found at http://www.nfnz.cz/ .
- Prepare yourself. Disinformation can threaten your organization’s reputation. Determine procedures for crisis communication after discovery of misinformation.
- Refute. Ignoring misinformation may not be the solution. When reputational threats occur, carefully consider how to refute misinformation to avoid reinforcing it.
- Verify. Find independent sources of objective information, verify the facts with them, and engage them in communications as appropriate. Use fact-checking platforms such as factcheck.org, manipulatori.cz, demagog.cz, checkbot.sk.
How should we proceed in the case of our company?
First, let’s be clear about what constitutes misinformation for GUMEX. For example, it could be deliberately putting bad reviews from your clients or competitors on social media. We’ll choose effective tools and processes to let you know if misinformation has already appeared somewhere. The ideal way to do this is to use Monitora.cz’s media monitoring. Our firm PRAM Consulting has been monitoring everything that is written about our clients for a long time, so you would get this information from us. We then agree on what method of statement to take against the published misinformation.
Who in the company is knowledgeable enough to be taken seriously when it comes to disclosure?“In a company, this should be handled by the marketing or public relations department.”
Can you give an example from practice where misinformation has affected a company’s reputation?
A few years ago, this was the case with the OPAVIA brand, for example. It was the so-called “sponge cake case”. Multinational confectionery manufacturer Mondelēz International faced the wrath of its customers after the internet programme “Enough!” revealed that the company had moved production to Poland and that the biscuits had changed shape, taste and consistency, although Mondelēz International continued to sell them under the brand name “traditional Opavia biscuits”. On Facebook, a customer reported that the biscuits were hard, had a different colour and, most importantly, tasted completely different than before. This was not an isolated opinion and a company spokesperson publicly informed customers and end consumers about the matter. The company was ordered by the State Agricultural and Food Inspectorate to relabel the biscuits, which are not produced in the Czech Republic. This was a sensitive product, usually purchased by mothers of young children, who are a very critical group. That is why I think that OPAVIA will not get rid of this case for good, whenever someone can be found to use it against it.
What do you think of the saying that there is a little truth in every speck?
This is certainly not always the case. Lies, half-truths and manipulations abound on the internet and can often do harm. Many misunderstandings arise from the dissemination of fictitious information intended to amuse and tease. But even journalists make mistakes. They get the information wrong, they fall for a source, they are under pressure to publish quickly, before the competition. It is necessary to admit the mistake, to set the record straight.
But there are also known cases where people misinform deliberately. Why do they do it?
There are some people, so-called trolls, who just enjoy calling others out. They have no interest in discussion, they enjoy pissing someone off. They’ll make up anything and celebrate when the media falls for it. Sometimes they can even be paid for it. Especially on social media, some users often share information even though they often don’t have time to find out more about it. Or they feel they don’t need to know more. Social networks are popular because they make people feel special. To be seen and heard, to have influence over a large group of people is such an attraction that some will even use lies or manipulation. Unfortunately, the anonymity of the internet makes it easy to hurt, humiliate, slander and bully someone using lies, gossip and manipulation. The motivations for lying and manipulating on the Internet are many. And that is why fake news** must be confronted.
If we choose to fight misinformation, are we actually giving it more space than it deserves?
Surely the truth needs to be made public, that is, to set the record straight. Explain and publish, repeatedly! It is not just that manipulative and false information can irreversibly damage a brand’s reputation and sales. Employers should react as soon as possible, identify the problem and explain it to their employees and business partners. In general, we should not accept that, as the influence of misinformation spreads, people’s trust in the traditional information media is weakened. Yet a strong traditional media and the democratic debate that takes place in it represent an absolutely vital link between freedom of speech and democracy as such.