The Reputational Risks of Misinformation and Disinformation

February 9, 2023
By PRSA Silicon Valley Intern Raina Stroescu
The Reputational Risks of Misinformation and Disinformation

Anyone with access to the Internet can create an epidemic of misinformation and disinformation with just a few keystrokes. In fact, 87% of executives say the spread of disinformation is one of the greatest reputational risks for businesses today. Especially in this era of COVID and hyper-polarization, communications professionals must ensure that information about our clients and companies is accurate. At PRSA Silicon Valley’s 1/28/22 #FridayForum, Weber Shandwick hosted a panel of experts who can help us do just that.

Moderated by Weber ShandwickPresident, West Geo, Will Ludlam, the panel included Weber Shandwick Senior Vice President, Strategy and Planning Michael Connery, Aspen Digital Executive Director Vivian Schiller and Blackbird.AI CEO/Co-Founder Wasim Khaled.

Mike Connery explained that misinformation is “information that is false but not necessarily spread with any malicious intent,” while disinformation is “information that is false and is spread with intent to harm.”

Vivian Schiller added that social media platforms exacerbate the problem. She says individuals are “subject to a social media ecosystem that makes things worse. We are constantly being exposed to extreme content.”

Stopping the Spread

Dissemination of misinformation and disinformation by uninformed individuals, groups, or outside sources such as bots can have not only a global impact but also a very real micro-impact on individuals and brands. Schiller expressed the need to incentivize social media companies to mitigate the flow of misinformation throughout their platforms. For example, using fact-checking tools, identifying bots, and determining the individuals or groups responsible can help prevent the spread of false information.

The recent controversy between Spotify and Joe Rogan, who welcomed a guest who spread misinformation about pandemics and the efficacy of vaccines, is a good example. In reaction to calls for Spotify to prevent the spread of disinformation to Rogan’s millions of listeners, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek announced a feature that directs users to factual information about the virus and vaccine. Ek is carefully toeing the line between removing the highly-contested podcast episodes and censoring false information regarding COVID, promising Spotify “would ensure there are consequences for creators who break [the] rules.”

Media literacy, which is the ability to understand, analyze and evaluate content within the media, is an additional factor to consider. to have clarity into the foggy world of misinformation, Schiller says, “We need to listen to each other and talk across our differences to build trust.”

Five Information Disorder Signals

While it’s almost impossible to stop misinformation and disinformation from being shared, Wasim Khaled says its impact on our society, both nationally and globally, should be understood as a “cyber-attack on human perception.”

Khaled shared five signals that can be used to identify and address misinformation or disinformation:

1.  Narrative: what are the stories or concepts being formed around a topic?

2.  Networks: how do you visualize information flow through these narratives?

3.  Coalition: what like-minded people or communities are involved?

4.  Manipulation: how do you distinguish between authentic or false information?

5.  Influence: how can you create an impact around these harmful actors?

Incorporating this critical eye into your everyday news and feed consumption can help mitigate the spread and panic of information disorder. In addition, Schiller advised corporations to be conscious of the content they share and consider negative impacts their media behavior can create.

“Businesses must “be aware of where [they’re] spending [their] money. Understanding where your investments are going and if these places are transparent and reflective of your values is essential,” she says.

Connery suggests corporations also re-evaluate their crisis plan. The emergence of the information disorder epidemic is relatively new, and corporations must be prepared for a variety of circumstances that can result from false information. Companies such as Blackbird, for example, provide artificial intelligence and benchmarking tools to help monitor the spread of misinformation.

More Info

Our thanks to Weber Shandwick for hosting this important conversation and to Weber Shandwick Senior Vice President Diane Whitlow Smith for sharing these links where you can learn more about disinformation and misinformation:

To watch the January 28, 2022, #FridayForum on Misinformation and Disinformation hosted by Weber Shandwick, visit PRSA Silicon Valley on Facebook. Or listen to the podcast on Apple, Buzzsprout and Spotify.

Sign up for our newsletter

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.