Susana Carrizosa, a journalist at leading Spanish daily El País, contacted me to talk about fake news in a business context, and how it is being used as a communication or corporate lobbying strategy.

I tried to provide Susana with some examples in which competitors, or even entire industries, have agreed to spread misinformation to influence public opinion or politicians, as the tobacco industry did for many years in the latter part of the last century to play down the harmful effects of cigarettes. It even created bogus research institutes that concocted fake data showing that smoking was not a health threat. Similarly, the oil industry funds climate change denial by spreading stories that electric vehicles generate more emissions than diesel or petrol vehicles (the well-known — and false — “long tailpipe” theory), or that renewable energies are too unreliable to be the mainstay of electricity generation. Some of these hoaxes are spread so efficiently that they continue to trotted out in debates decades later, despite having been reliably disproved on countless occasions.

The strength of fake news is that it often resonates with our myths or fears, so that we don’t bother to verify a story’s authenticity. Often fake news will seem authoritative: “if an oil company says it, then it must be true”, or can come from reports based on biased readings of data or peppered with unsubstantiated opinion. In many cases, fake news are part of mass manipulation campaigns, managed by communication agencies with huge budgets.

In other cases we are talking about scams aimed at raising a company’s share price that involves spreading misinformation So-called meme stocks, which provide a living for outfits like Robinhood, are a relatively sophisticated version that use social networks, and have gone from grassroot models, in principle genuine, to being the product of sophisticated strategies that try to take advantage of market trends that appear spontaneous.

To combat this type of ruses, companies need well-developed and adequately resourced information channels, such as social networks, corporate pages, etc., where the facts can be published quickly, and indexed appropriately, because the channel has already been operating for some time and has a reputation and a certain number of followers. The best thing to do when faced with a hoax is to have channels where interested parties can go to verify find the truth, and this implies direct communication without intermediaries, which can be implemented quickly, coordinated in many cases with other more traditional strategies.

As always, it is worth remembering that big claims require big proof, and that if we cannot believe everything we see in the media, we should be even more skeptical about information being passed on via private messaging groups with no other source than a link to a news item or a tweet. Again, in most cases, the people spreading these stories do so not so much because they believe them, but because they want to believe them. The politicization of biology, epidemiology or virology, as has been going on for some time in the United States, where Covid has now killed more people than the Influenza epidemic of 1918, is a powerful example of this, and that was started not by business but by the Republican Party.

Can these strategies be identified or traced back to their origins? Yes, and sometimes it has been done. That said, our societies tend to avoid pointing the finger of responsibility and, in fact, tend to bury such phenomena after a certain time or, even worse, to justify them in terms of short-term benefits. With all this in mind, it is little wonder that business has weaponized fake news over recent decades, given that practically the only counterpart or balance is the exercise of something as intangible and open to interpretation as ethics.

In the collective imagination, the idea of, for example, holding the oil industry accountable for years of misinformation about the climate emergency is widely seen as futile, impossible or unjustified, as if it were natural and understandable that the future of the planet is secondary to corporate profits. How did we get to this point, and what can we do to redress things?

http://www.enriquedans.com
Contributor

Recently Published

Queen Elizabeth II was not just a monarch, she represented a global brand. And for the past seven decades, this brand has to some extent defined and promoted the British nation around the world. Brands are important corporate (or in this case national) assetsthat can burnish a company’s profile and meaningfully differentiate it from other businesses. […]
Ads are coming to Netflix, perhaps even sooner than anticipated.  The Wall Street Journal has reported that Netflix has moved up the launch of their ad-supported subscription tier to November. The Sydney Morning Herald, meanwhile, is reporting that Australia is amongst the first countries likely to experience ads on Netflix later this year. Netflix first announced they would introduce […]

Top Picks

More and more colleges are becoming “metaversities,” taking their physical campuses into a virtual online world, often called the “metaverse.” One initiative has 10 U.S. universities and colleges working with Meta, the parent company of Facebook, and virtual reality company VictoryXR to create 3D online replicas – sometimes called “digital twins” – of their campuses that are […]
Proof-of-stake is a mechanism for achieving consensus on a blockchain. Blockchain is a technology that records transactions that can’t be deleted or altered. It’s a decentralized database, or ledger, that is under no one person or organization’s control. Since no one controls the database, consensus mechanisms, such as proof-of-stake, are needed to coordinate the operation […]
Woven through Thor: Love and Thunder, Taika Waititi’s latest contribution to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is a sentimental and age-old commentary on mortality and love.  In this intergalactic rom-com, the hammer-wielding Gods of Thunder face the shady “god butcher” Gorr in a race to the Gates of Eternity. Gorr has inherited his god-killing gift through […]

Trending

The Industrial model of education that fueled the modern era and its dizzying reach did its job incredibly well. Its prime accomplishment was the expansion of our ability to abstract the world. Until then, pragmatism reigned, limiting most people’s thoughts and interactions primarily because we lacked the tools to extrapolate information, to wield it for things that lay beyond obvious […]
I highly recommend reading the McKinsey Global Institute’s new report, “Reskilling China: Transforming The World’s Largest Workforce Into Lifelong Learners”, which focuses on the country’s biggest employment challenge, re-training its workforce and the adoption of practices such as lifelong learning to address the growing digital transformation of its productive fabric. How to transform the country […]

Join our Newsletter

Get our monthly recap with the latest news, articles and resources.

Latest Titles

Empirics Podcast

  • The Future Of Aviation Is Electric?

Login

Welcome to Empirics

We are glad you have decided to join our mission of gathering the collective knowledge of Asia!
Join Empirics