1. Building a culture of integrity, compliance and ethics
Proactively building a culture that retains trust is a far more effective and sustainable approach than scrambling to rebuild trust after it has already been lost.
A strong culture of integrity, compliance and ethics, supported by an integrated compliance and risk management program, is the key to helping media and consumer technology companies prevent fake-news-related problems and maintain brand reputation over the long term. Resources should be allocated using a risk-based approach that identifies the business’s greatest risks and directs investment in proportion to each risk.
Establishing this culture requires commitment from the highest levels of the organization; executives need to make it clear that maintaining trust is a business imperative.
“Ultimately, you need to set a tone from the top: ‘this is what we stand for,’” says John Harrison, EY Global Media & Entertainment Sector Leader. “It's part of the overall value proposition that the organization responsibly delivers content that’s as accurate as possible — even if, in some cases, publishing the content may not be in its immediate commercial interest.”
This integrity-based culture avoids focusing solely on maximizing clicks per story. Instead it aims to preserve quality journalism, including control mechanisms to prevent inaccuracies. Still, it also needs to recognize commercial reality by balancing the value of aggressive journalism against the need to protect the brand and its reputation — assessing what’s worth publishing and what may cause trouble for the organization.
At the level of individual journalists and others involved in the day-to-day news flow, establishing a culture of integrity involves creating the right balance between incentives and metrics. It’s important to examine what motivates each individual, and to create the right blend of success factors, weighted toward information value, integrity and responsibility.
“Media companies need to clearly define what success means — for individuals as well as for the organization as a whole,” says Dr. Stefan Heissner, EY EMEIA Forensic & Integrity Services Leader. “Is there too much pressure on journalists which could lead them to manipulate their own articles? Is success measured using a balanced scorecard that takes into account quality as well as the number of clicks?”
2. Strengthening cybersecurity
Cyberattacks present major threats to trust — breaches and data thefts can result in scandals that undermine the trust media companies have built with audiences and advertisers. The risks media organizations face include attackers who may seek to spread fake news by stealing social media account credentials, or they may aim to disrupt operations through cyberattacks or may steal and misuse user information.
These threats underline the importance of a strong cybersecurity strategy covering both technical controls and employee behavior. Strong technical controls are essential to protect users and information, including secure storage, firewalls and multilevel authentication.
But it’s also vital to establish clear policies that build employee risk awareness and drive secure behavior. Which information should be shared? How should it be shared, and with whom? Are there clear policies for handling passwords, dealing with suspicious email attachments and preventing phishing?
3. Monitoring social media, platform news and social interaction
Tracking and stopping the spread of fake news requires constant vigilance, and monitoring of social media platforms and other interaction channels. Fake news may appear almost anywhere in the online environment and then rapidly spread across multiple platforms.
Therefore, media and consumer technology companies may need to conduct internal monitoring of their own platforms and channels as well as external monitoring across the broader online landscape to identify the source of fake news that might affect the company. These sources include malicious domains and fake websites, and false rumors proliferated by social media bots.
Multiple levels of monitoring are needed, notes Heissner. The first level — flagging potentially suspicious items — must be automated due to the sheer volume of information that must be scanned. But once this automated monitoring has flagged a suspicious item, manual analysis may be needed to determine whether it’s a “false positive” or a real problem that the company needs to investigate and address.
4. Creating a crisis management plan
Fake news problems can threaten even the best-run media business, since they are often outside the organization’s control. By creating a comprehensive crisis management plan in advance, the business can respond rapidly and effectively to minimize the damage and counteract the potential loss of trust.
Though fake news problems may have diverse causes, the crisis management principles and steps are often similar. When a problem emerges, a predetermined clear plan of action enables organizations to react quickly and investigate it.
It’s important to promptly engage with key stakeholders to acknowledge the problem and what’s being done, even if you’re still investigating the root cause. Delaying engagement with stakeholders, in the hope that the problem will vanish on its own, may be a losing strategy because it allows more time for the impact to spread. Internally, organizations need the ability to escalate their response depending on the extent of the problem. Crisis management actions may include:
- Performing a forensic investigation of impacted data and systems
- Analyzing the attack type
- Assessing the potential damage and stakeholder impacts
- Setting up a crisis reaction team to respond to customer questions
- Liaising with law enforcement
- Rebuilding trust in the market through proactive communication, transparency and authenticity
Building a trusted and sustainable media business
Much like guarding against cyberattacks, the battle against fake news appears to be never-ending: even as organizations learn to identify and prevent existing threats, fake news sources and tactics will continue to evolve.
This environment demands a long-term plan for retaining the trust of audiences and advertisers and combating this existential threat. While the problem may seem amorphous and impossible to control, inaction is not an option when the stakes are so high. Strengthening trust, integrity and security and creating plans for monitoring and responding will put organizations on a stronger foundation.