There is currently widespread concern in the UK – and abroad – about fake news. Grown out of the turbulent political events of 2016 , fake news has ramifications for every evidence-based industry. Technology, Media and Telecoms specialist Anna Ritchie explores the currents feelings around fake news and what it means for the world of research.
Fake news is a term that has defined the media industry in recent months.
Used to describe almost any article these days, fake news is having a fundamental impact, not just on the media and journalism industries, but also society as a whole.
In a poll conducted last week by Maru/edr, a quarter of UK adults said they trusted new providers less than 6 months ago and over two thirds (69%) agreed that they were concerned by the use of fake news.
The growth of the internet and the rise of social media has made it possible for anyone to create and distribute news online with little effort, little cost, and little accountability. The bigger the audience the higher the potential to make money from automated advertising engines, opening the door to unscrupulous individuals or organisations motivated by money or political ambition rather than the truth. This is concerning for anyone but particularly for those working in an industry dedicated in helping leaders and policy makers to make informed decisions.
It has always been known that people look for evidence to support their existing views
This has never been more prevalent than in the last 6 months; most notably with the Brexit vote and the US presidential election.
Brexit supporters openly discounted the experts. They were buoyed by senior politicians like Michael Gove, who made the now-notorious claim that “people have had enough of experts”.
Trump supporters were won over by the promise of a better world and often discredited comments against women, religion, global warming or entire nations in their desire for a better future.
As researchers, we have always known that emotions drive behaviour and understood the importance of personality in a leadership contest. However, none of us could have predicted how facts could be so easily or publicly dismissed by people in positions of power without feeling concern about the wider implications.
In our poll this was a theme amongst those who explained why fake news concerned them.
“People will believe an inaccurate article because it fits in with their views e.g. people who voted Leave believed the £350 million NHS promise because it fitted with their view of Europe.”
Who can be trusted?
As many big brands shift from TV advertising to a more content-driven approach, and as social media plays an increasing role in the distribution of news and content, it has never been more important for brands to have content that is emotionally engaging and quickly recognisable but also fact-based so that it can be trusted.
As Richard Huntington, chief strategy office at Saatchi& Saatchi said recently in Marketing Week, “Despite recent events’ there is an expectation of honesty and professional quality that consumers demand from brands they transact with”.
In our research, the overwhelming majority of UK adults (71%) trust content from news providers they know. From the list of Media brands we presented; TV broadcasters were the most trusted whilst red top newspapers were the least trusted.
71% of UK adults trust content from providers they know.
Amongst all the brands tested it was the BBC that achieved the highest score with over a third saying that they completely trusted them. TV broadcasters have an advantage, as more than half say that they trust news on the TV more than the news they read online. If, as a society, we believe truth matters, then advertisers also have a responsibility to promote authentic content rather than simply rewarding sensational headlines.
There is a changing role for evidence-based research in a world of fake news
In an industry dedicated to informed decisions in order to minimise risk, we have always valued evidence based research but have also understood the power of emotion in driving actual behaviour.
The recent rise of implicit research techniques that go beyond the rational to uncover the emotional or non-conscious have never been more relevant in today’s world.
At Maru/edr we use an Emotional Positioning System with codified images to reveal non-conscious associations with brands or experiences. We also use text analysis to track key themes and sentiment in customer verbatim to supplement the more rational scores and ratings.
In a world of concern about fake news, we would argue that the role of research is more relevant than ever and that recent political events have only sought to highlight the importance of deeply understanding your audience.
Anna Ritchie is a Research Director at Maru/edr – working on Voice of the Customer solutions across a number of key industries whilst specializing in technology, media & telecoms.