I will admit. This presidential election and post-presidential election has gotten me very frustrated with social media. Whether you’re a Trump or Hillary supporter, the hate and judgemental statements are extremely intense. What makes matters most is that most people are posting links to fake stories that support their views without first checking to see if they are true. Our social media has become those annoying tabloid magazines that you see at the grocery store checkout. The sad thing is that it is creating a distrust for media.
My job as a public relations professional is to get your story covered by reporters that are within your brand and create positive thoughts about your company or product. If fake news sites continue to post erroneous news, it will dilute the true news that is out there. Now reporters aren’t perfect. They do make mistakes in their stories and nowaday they don’t leave their own bias out of it. I was trained as a journalist and when you write, you give both sides of the story and let the reader make their own conclusion. That is what I was taught but I’m not sure that is what is taught now. Bias in the news is everywhere and along with the fake news sites, I’m not sure where the news industry is going. I know reporters want to tell a good and truthful story but with social media, the fake news, people reporting, that task is getting harder and harder to do because of time. Time is an extreme factor. News agencies always want to be the first to get the story, to update their audiences on what is happening.
As a former PR professional for a homeless shelter, the reporter’s need to the information, a unique perspective on the story is strong. I still remember the time when I got the call that there was a shooting inside the shelter. My office is about 25 minutes away and by the time I got there, every news station was there, including KIRO’s helicopter. I had people texting me on my way to the scene, asking me about it. It had already hit the airwaves or satellite waves. I had reporters combing the scene, looking for people who knew anything about the shooting – trying to find that unique story. I had to ask everyone to not comment consistently. Why? Because that is how rumors get started. That is how the image of an organization or business gets trashed. Once the rumor or fake news gets rolling, it’s hard to stop. More people enjoy the sensationalism than the truth, it seems.
There was another incident at the same shelter. A man struggling with mental health issues ran into the shelter, claiming he was a vampire and needed to feed on people. The staff told him no and he said he had a bomb and proceeded to lift his forearm pointing to a bomb-like device. The staff got him out of the shelter and called 9-1-1. SWOT came and surrounded the man. Our shelter director at the time decided to go up to make sure he was ok. Reporters immediately recognized him and asked him what happened. He started describing what happened and mentioned the vampire portion of the story and wanting to eat people. Anything he said afterwards, no one heard. He explained about mental health and the issues they face. They explained that the Mission cares about him. But did anyone hear that part of the story? NOPE! The headlines of a vampire people eating homeless person spread nationally. Even made some vampire genre blogs. That situation immediately prompted media training and was used years laters as an example of what NOT to do. Incidentally, that spokesperson became one of the best I had ever worked with – once trained. Unfortunately, these types of headlines also get shared on social media, making the spread of the issue worse. I read post after post about horrible things about each presidential candidate and yet none of the sources were any that I have heard of. Has social media and the Internet made people more dumb? Gullible? Willing to fight in whatever way they need to get their point across? I know many of these people and I can tell you they are NOT dumb, so what is it?
The tabloid headlines in fake news sites, our social media streams and in our conversations is making my job as a storyteller more difficult. People aren’t going to trust any story they hear in the news, including the stories I’m telling about WinnComm‘s clients. I don’t know what the result of this trend will be, however, just a reminder … don’t always believe the headlines. Check it out for yourself. Don’t share stories on your social media channels unless you know to be credible.