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This is how to fight fake news at work in a post-trust era

Loss of truth also inevitably means loss of trust, arguably the single most important factor in the employer-employee relationship. Here’s how to fight back.

This is how to fight fake news at work in a post-trust era
[Photo: Mr Cup / Fabien Barral/Unsplash]

Earlier this month, a video clip surfaced on Instagram of Mark Zuckerberg delivering a short, troubling speech. In it, he touched on Facebook’s foreboding power and argued that control of data means control of the future.

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There was only one problem: The video wasn’t real. It was a “deepfake” otherwise known as a video depicting someone’s likeness to show something that didn’t actually happen. The Zuckerberg clip was just the latest in a string of recent deepfakes circulating online. It was created by two artists who also generated one of Kim Kardashian.

It’s getting easier by the day to produce deepfakes, as well as to share them. Earlier this year, President Trump also made headlines when he tweeted a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stammering through a news conference. Consequently, Congress recently held a hearing to discuss the threat.

This is just the latest indicator of the “post-trust era.” The term was coined by my colleague and friend Shiv Singh, who coauthored Savvy: Navigating Fake Companies, Fake Leaders and Fake News in the Post-Trust Era, with Dr. Rohini Luthra to describe our society and the ease with which we fall for fakes.

This is fueled by a perfect storm of societal, organizational, and even psychological factors. The rise of new media, social, and collaboration channels means anyone in an organization can spread information, and it’s simply become too easy for fact-checking to go out the window. With the gig economy and frontline workers now in more places than ever, a remote culture has spawned digital water-cooler conversations that run rampant online.

Perpetuating fake news even plays right into our biology as humans. Sharing feeds our desire for belonging and social validation. Who can say that getting a laugh on Slack at work, being in on work rumors, or receiving likes on a social post doesn’t feel good? In this way, employees can even be rewarded for non-truths, and the more provocative you are, the more likes, laughs, or admiration you get.

In this new landscape, businesses, too, are no longer immune to the impact of fake news. During that same Congressional hearing, Danielle Citron, professor of law at the University of Maryland, discussed how deepfakes could cause serious business issues, such as ruining a company’s IPO by depicting the CEO committing a crime. A recent study commissioned by my company, SocialChorus, revealed that preventing the spread of misinformation at work is now a top priority of the C-suite, with over half of the internal communicators surveyed stating so.

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All of this culminates in a massive problem for businesses. Keeping all employees aligned is not only critical to engagement and productivity but also impacts the bottom line. Loss of truth also inevitably means loss of trust, arguably the single most important factor in the employer-employee relationship. These challenges are already difficult enough; throwing fake news on top compounds the problem exponentially.

We’ve reached a tipping point where we can no longer ignore the impact of fake news in the workplace. So, what can realistically be done to fight its spread? Here are a few tips for business leaders and employees.

Consider the opposite reality

Shiv says that with every piece of potentially inflammatory information you hear, consider if the opposite were true. Before believing something outright, always consider the alternative viewpoint and potential outcomes. It’s a simple, effective step in determining fact from fiction and to check yourself before buying into a potential rumor.

Learn and check your cognitive biases

Understanding and considering your own biases when evaluating information can make a world of difference. For example, anchoring bias is when we attach truth to the first thing we hear. Confirmation bias has us only seek information to confirm what we think is true. Both get in the way of considering diverse viewpoints and possibilities—and both are critical to consider when receiving or passing on news.

Create transparent communication

Establishing communication channels between senior leadership and employees gives more junior employees a direct line to the truth, while senior leadership gains eyes and ears on the ground. CEOs and senior executives should also practice transparent, frequent communication with employees—for example, sharing regular updates or answering tough questions over video each week. Leaders must empower employees to share feedback.

Establish truth ambassadors

Just as businesses might have a change agent or ambassador during a time of transition, they should consider creating truth ambassadors. Especially with increasing numbers of distributed and deskless workers (i.e., those who don’t sit at a computer screen), having trusted sources to disseminate information and answer questions is invaluable. Giving these ambassadors a direct line with the CEO or senior leaders with a weekly or monthly briefing can ensure employees receive the most factual information straight from the source while minimizing the amount of misinformation that can occur between multiple contacts.

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Build a single source of truth

As long as social and collaboration platforms go unchecked, employees have the opportunity to spread rumors. But this can be quelled if companies establish a single, known source of truth where employees can find the most up-to-date information. This is especially important in times of major change or upheaval, from mergers and acquisitions to downright scandals, where rumors can leave employees fearful and impact morale. Establish a sole place for truthful, company-backed information that can reach all employees wherever they are, across any digital channel. This ensures they know just where to go to set the record straight.

The full consequences of living in a fake-news era remain to be seen, and at times it can feel like we’re just fighting the inevitable. But even in a world of fakes and fiction, facts are not fluid, and business leaders have a responsibility to become preservers of truth. The time to act is now. Take steps to fight fake news in the workplace, or risk seeing trust—and your company’s survival—go out the door.


Nicole Alvino is a two-time company founder and current chief strategy officer at SocialChorus, a workforce communications SaaS company. She guides the company’s strategic growth and works with leaders at Fortune 500 companies to help them digitally transform the employee experience.

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