The Truth Behind 'Fake News'

Fake News
In a world of ‘fake news’ and alternative truths, trying to figure out when to act, how to react and how to make sure your business stays on track is becoming an increasingly complex task.  This, combined with the speed at which stories can be shared through social media, makes it more important than ever to be critical in evaluating medical and security advice and information. 


Pseudo-Reality

People that are not bound by regulations can loudly claim anything and everything. The media especially, can very easily blur the lines between an exaggerated, untimely story and a relevant, timely piece of information. 

An example of this is the varying ways in which a government terrorism assessment is reported. Generally, a headline involving the government or terrorism holds a lot of weight and is so quickly shared across various mediums, generally associated with a very negative tone. The misconception here is that a national embassy could issue an alert about terrorism in a given country, but often this alert is based on existing advice on the region and not any indication to any imminent attack or risk. 

This pseudo-reality is also present from a medical perspective, whereby diets, recipes and products are being promoted as cures for everything from wrinkles to cancer. Some appear to be backed by science, but are in fact ‘pseudoscience’.  Some high profiles examples include:

  • Following the nuclear accident in Fukushima, Japan in 2011, stores in China sold out of table salt due to the incorrect belief it protected against radiation (CNN 18 March 2011). 
  • During the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, people died after drinking salt water, thinking it could cure the disease (WHO 15 August 2014). 
  • In 2015, when South Korea was confronted by a large outbreak of MERS-CoV, North Korean scientists claimed to have created a vaccine derived from ginseng which could treat SARS, Ebola and MERS-CoV(ABC News Australia 20 June 2015). 
  • The numerous oils and “natural” products which are said to prevent mosquito bites and malaria have found a new market in those seeking to ward off Zika, although they don’t live up to these claims.


Filling time and space


Media companies and news channels have to fill their allotted time and space with content but the quality and relevance of the content is at their discretion. This discrepancy forces us to investigate the real impact and risk. For example, the media will objectively decide on the time and attention a story gets based on their own interests in the event and does not necessarily correlate with its impact or risk to you or your organisation.

Filling time and space can not only exaggerate certain stories but can lead to a false equivalence. For example, the headline on a Monday could be “Country X coup topples government” and then the headline on Tuesday could be “Country X immigration policies cause cancer”. Someone reading both headlines may be immediately concerned about their welfare, yet unclear of what actions to take. Therefore, we recommend evaluating news independently and getting advice from a reliable source is critical in mitigating risk for an organisation.

Fake News

Regional Bias


The way in which a news story spreads and is depicted greatly depends on the region. For example, the term ‘state of emergency’ holds a different level of significance in different countries and in different contexts. Often this phrase will be applied to circumstances following a major incident, or ahead of an anticipated crisis, where there is a threat to life or limb; it also carries connotations of a civil authority unable to cope with the situation.  However, in many countries the term has a precise legal status which helps determine, for example, issues such as the granting of federal funds and resources to local administrations.  The executive declaration by a state governor of a ‘state of emergency’ in a country like the United States, a democracy with high level of civil capacity and a resilient population, requires a very different response from a similar declaration by an authoritarian government, which might be using a situation to suspend laws governing freedom of speech or assembly. Both are different again from circumstances in which the phrase ‘a state of emergency’ is being used informally by news correspondents to describe conditions on the ground in a country experiencing societal upheaval.

Understanding these contexts and validating the information you receive based on the location you’ll be travelling to with a reputable source, is vital in understanding the real impact.


Six Questions You Need to Ask


Meanwhile, the true experts, who respect the rules in communicating their knowledge and their voice, need to be actively sought out. So how should we go about evaluating these claims? Ask questions and investigate:
  1. Does the source clearly identify who they are? Is there a contact address and telephone number? Be wary of anyone that doesn’t give a physical address or a number you can call to ask more.
  2. Is the source an established institution, government agency, or reputable organisation? Often information has gone through a vetting procedure before it’s been publicised. These groups may have a minimum or even best practice standard to follow, and a reputation to uphold. They may be held to account by regulatory bodies if they fail to meet requirements.
  3. Does the information point to robust reference sources? Providing references makes independent verification easier. 
  4. Is there a feedback mechanism? Organisations that care about their audience’s opinion want to hear from you, both the positive and the negative.
  5. Is the information too good to be true? If a cure has eluded everyone else, be sceptical! There are several websites where scams can be reported e.g. http://www.quackwatch.org/, https://www.scamwatch.gov.au/ or https://www.usa.gov/scams-and-frauds 
  6. Run the information past a trusted expert advisor. They should be able to give you the background consensus opinion, and if they haven’t already researched the new information you are presenting, they can bring in their network to get the facts.

In Summary


To avoid cancelling trips or altering travel plans, which can be costly, we recommend organisations consider the above examples as proof that the current state of a region is not always as it may be projected in the media. Deciphering what is ‘Fake News’ or alternative truths can easily be validated with support from our experts.  

For more information on how we can help click here.