How To Combat Misinformation

Combatting misinformation is part of the Public Relations Society of America’s 2021 national platform.  As a member of the PRSA College of Fellows, I had an opportunity to listen in on a presentation about this new initiative, Voices4Everyone.  It’s a program to create an atmosphere where democracy and informed decision-making can thrive.  (The other three pillars are embracing diversity and inclusion, driving civic engagement and modeling effective discourse.)

Nance Larsen, APR, Fellow PRSA, chair, PRSA Advocacy Committee, said during the webinar that bringing behavioral science to life is a challenge.  In this case, it takes on:

  • Mis-information – false information, but not created with negative intent.
  • Dis-information – false information, specifically created to harm a person or social group.
  • Mal-information – information based on reality … but used to inflict harm on a person, organization or country.

Nina Jankowicz, Disinformation Fellow and former Fulbright-Clinton Public Policy Fellow, has stated that “disinformation is not a partisan problem.  It’s a democratic one, and it will take cooperation – cross party, cross-sector, cross-government, and cross-border – to defeat.”

An Institute of Public Relations study from last year found that more than two-thirds of Americans view disinformation as a threat to democracy.  Misinformation in the news is the fourth top issue facing Americans, behind infectious disease outbreaks, health care costs and government corruption.

So what to do about it?

Mike Cherenson, APR, Fellow PRSA, and executive vice president of SCG Advertising and Public Relations, says we need to “pre-bunk“ rather than “de-bunk.”  Debunking is a tall order due to the speed of the information highway and the fact that, according to MIT, it takes true stories about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number.  And false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be re-tweeted than true stories.

He says to pre-bunk we should take these steps:

  1. Fact check and verify the information.  Essentially, look both ways before crossing the information superhighway.
  2. Understand that the top sources of spreading disinformation are Facebook and politicians.  Know that information overload can create “censorship by noise.”
  3. Media Literacy. Learn how to sort online fact from fiction:  check out MediaWise and FirstDraft.

Cherenson went on to say that most people want to make good decisions.  They don’t want to be fooled or deceived, regardless of their politics or beliefs.

He said the truth needs an advocate.  It’s up to us to help facilitate that and keep the clutter of disinformation off the information highway.

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash
Written by
at Jan 7, 2021

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