In any crisis, information can be difficult to validate at the pace it spreads. It can be used to empower or destabilize, intentionally or not. Employees are looking to organizations to get information directly, putting a new importance on Comms teams. Organizations must decide what information to trust before they can communicate trustworthy information at scale and speed. For coronavirus, the decisions can literally be life-or-death.
Page and Page Up members gathered on an April 7th Hot Topics call to discuss two related issues - combatting disinformation related to a global pandemic and the practice of journalism in a world of truth decay. Some takeaways:
- Disinformation is often part of an orchestrated, relentless effort to disinform. Bad actors use it for a variety of agendas - to sow confusion or polarize a people, incite harmful actions or concentrate power. In places where internet freedoms are suppressed, people migrate to closed platforms like WhatsApp. While the encryption is great for privacy of personal messages, it also means we can’t see how disinformation spreads in those networks. We need a combination of policy, education and technology to fight back with sophisticated techniques.
- The Coronavirus crisis teaches us that we need epidemiology of information as much as of biology. We need robust and principled organizational and societal immune systems that can help us protect our society from dissolution and our businesses from disruption when attacked by those seeking to infect our information commons. Just as bodies produce antibodies to ward off invaders, one can imagine digital systems that scour information ecosystems for signals of false content and inform targeted counter-measures. And it is clear that such immune systems must be digital and intelligent - aka Commtech.
- Journalistic standards matter to companies, too. Reuters shared how they are mobilizing reporters to cover coronavirus while protecting their health and safety. They have rigorous standards for validating information and avoiding bias - multiple sourcing, triangulating with other known facts, etc. - that companies would do well to adopt themselves. And with the scale of death in some places, reporters are being prepared - both logistically and emotionally -- as if they’re entering war zones, and are debriefed, counseled and monitored after they return.
- CCOs have the opportunity to create a new CSR focused on information health. Our profession must collaborate with journalism, with technology platforms and with visionary sources of funding to develop the principles and especially the how-to of information health for business and society. Practicing good data hygiene ensures your organization is being responsible and in many cases gives a competitive advantage. Special thanks to Alex Thompson, CCO at Reuters for moderating this call, to Jane Barrett, global editor of media news strategy at Reuters, and Bob Pearson, former Dell CCO, author and advisor to the US government, for sharing their informed perspectives on the call. Bob shared a blog with us that you can find here.