How to deal with Fake News?

In their guest article, Stefan Eggenberger and Stefan Vogler want to raise awareness of the topic of "fake news" and name pragmatic approaches and measures on how to better recognize and tackle false news in both corporate and individual everyday life.

In their podcast stefanundstefan, Stefan Eggenberger (left) talks about various topics from the media and communications sector. The latest episode is about fake news. (Image: zVg. HWZ)

Is fake news old wine in new bottles? Not quite. Deliberate deception and manipulation have existed as long as there have been people. Fake news is a special and modern variant of it. These false reports are characterized above all by their rapid spread on the Internet and in social media. The motive behind them is often to stir up fear, insecurity, mistrust and hatred or to shake confidence in established and functioning institutions.

Is it all just staging?

Maybe. But probably only until we have believed Fake News for the first time, have spread it or supported its spread and have come to harm ourselves or others.

At some point it really hurts

It is important to take the phenomenon of fake news seriously, because they pose a threat to open cultures and societies in the sense of Karl R. Popper. They can undermine people's trust in politics and the media and thus endanger social cohesion.

With fake news, manipulators target public opinion and political decisions and aim to influence them for their own purposes. In doing so, they can cause damage by spreading false information on health, energy or security issues, for example. As fake news is increasingly professionally prepared and disseminated, they are all the more difficult to detect. They cleverly play on our prejudices and target our susceptibility. And they can lead us to make wrong and fatal decisions. They reinforce existing or create new prejudices, stereotypes and enemy images, lead to hatred and violence, and fuel the readiness for confrontation between groups and mentalities.

Fake News will soon pass away....

If you believe it, you will be blessed. In the future, we will be confronted with fake news even more intensively, more regularly and in all areas of life. Why? Because, for one thing, more and more groupings and communities of interest have no viable program of their own, no value-creating approaches and no meaningful solutions. Their own raison d'être is essentially only to distort, demonize, slander other models, programs, progress, developments, activities and actions.

On the other hand, because technology is developing rapidly, new horizons are constantly opening up, and it is becoming easier and easier to produce false reports professionally and spread them in a targeted manner. One need only think of the current technical possibilities of disinformation and manipulation of people through language models such as ChatGPT. With such possibilities, the phenomenon of fake news, which is so devastating for democracies, will continue to increase. And free media as an integral part of a democratic opinion-forming process will come under even greater economic and political pressure. This is because media channels can be filled more cost-effectively with AI-generated texts.

Personal resistance to deception and ability to tell the truth

There are several ways to become more truthful. The following seven pragmatic approaches can help in personal everyday life:

  1. Sources: When we read or hear a message, we check the source and its trustworthiness.
  2. Facts: If a news story sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Then we briefly check the facts and their accuracy.
  3. Dissemination: We avoid sharing or forwarding messages without review.
  4. Preferences and sensitivities: It is important to be aware of this and try to balance subjectivity with objectivity.
  5. Diversity of perspectives: We use different sources. When we read or hear a particular message (see point 2), we look for other sources and compare the information.
  6. Education: We keep ourselves up to date and educate ourselves further. Context and topic competence help us to better assess and classify information and news.
  7. Exchange: We exchange ideas in our communities (not to be confused with bubbles and echo chambers...), with friends and acquaintances, and get valuable third-party opinions.

Entrepreneurial levers

Organizations and companies can be threatened in part or as a whole by fake news and get into crises. They should therefore have a vested interest in ensuring that their employees act and react in a self-responsible, independent and constructively critical manner. With the following simple measures, they can make a concrete contribution to improving their Fake News resistance:

  1. Orientation: Guidelines for dealing with fake news are in place. The employees know, understand and apply these in their daily work.
  2. Enablement: Employees are systematically sensitized and coordinated in dealing with fake news, activated and motivated to cooperate independently in a constructive and critical manner.
  3. Act: Employees know how to recognize misinformation and where to report it.
  4. Monitoring: Social media channels and platforms are systematically and continuously monitored for fake news.
  5. Cooperation: Companies are working with other organizations to jointly combat fake news.
  6. Value chain: Companies inform their customers, partners and suppliers about fake news and how they can protect themselves from it.
  7. Consulting: Companies seek advice from experts, recognized bodies or companies with core competencies in this area (e.g., Fake News Guide).

Deliberate, conscious deception is an integral part of all cultures and societies. Let's learn to deal with it in a more relaxed, alert and professional way.

* The authors of this article, Stefan Eggenberger and Stefan Vogler, produce podcasts with conversations on relevant and current topics in communications. With "stefanandstefan" analyze, comment on and convey practical tips. Examples from practice are mixed with insights from studies and knowledge from teaching. In addition to the latest podcast "Let's fake!", they have published the following podcasts, among others: "Bullshit communication", "Nightmare AI?", "Purpose overkill", "Cost pressure - don't crack under pressure", "CEO communication", "Employer branding in times of skills shortage", "Super skills" and "No risk - No trust".

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