A table with an electric typewriter, magazines and a video screen all spreading fake news
A table with an electric typewriter, magazines and a video screen all spreading fake news
#combatingdisinformation

A Disinformation Attack Can Destroy a Business; Here’s How to Combat One

By
Paul Kiernan
(11.2.2022)

Fake news, the kind that generates headlines, can do damage to corporations. This damage from posted information, usually not valid, can drive stock prices down and put a once profitable business into a death spiral.

Since 2016, the term “Fake News” has found a serious foothold in our cultural lexicon. From letters to or from a CEO to staged events to do damage to a person or company, fake news isn’t just a political rallying cry.

Fake news, the kind that generates headlines, can do damage to corporations. This damage from posted information, usually not valid, can drive stock prices down and put a once profitable business into a death spiral. The damage done by social media posts, photoshopped images, and even carefully edited videos can be irreversible.

Deep fakes, a video edited to make the person who is the center of the video appear to say or do things that they did, are also on the rise. These deep fakes and social media campaigns filled with disinformation have been a bee in the bonnet of political leaders for some time; now, these misinformation and disinformation campaigns are starting to have an adverse effect on corporations.

These misinformation campaigns will only worsen, whether for political purposes or just because someone has a vendetta. Deep fakes will become more sophisticated and harder to disseminate from real news videos. Apart from any political reasoning, these disinformation campaigns about individuals are becoming more widespread and destructive. Taking a this too will pass attitude toward the situation belies the fact that damage can be done and that businesses and corporations need to have plans in place if they become the focus of a disinformation campaign.

Here are some tips on handling a disinformation crisis if it hits your business.

Look in the mirror

The best place to start is with yourself. Take a good look at your operations and see where you might be vulnerable.

Perpetrators time misinformation attacks to do the most damage to the victim, with the best payoff for the malefactor. These attacks occur in bog moments for a company; IPOS, mergers, acquisitions, or product launches. All are opportunities for someone to do damage.

To prevent or lessen the damage, businesses should look at themselves and see what upcoming events might make them easy targets. Which aspects of your business are most vulnerable? What messages would have the most negative impact?

Doing an honest assessment allows a corporation to be prepared for an attack. This self-assessment is critical and should be done immediately.

Eyes on social

So much happens on social media, and there are so many platforms that it has become a full-time position to monitor them all. But that’s what’s needed. You have no idea when a casual comment about your business can go viral or when there is a coordinated attack on you.

You need to know how your brand is perceived on social media, what’s being said, what is accurate, and what is misinformation. You can do this by using an in-house group or hiring a third party to keep your social media crawled and clean. This will keep your company and individuals within apprised of what may be coming down the pike. That type of advance warning can help you prepare for the coming storm of disinformation.

You should also set up verified accounts on major social media platforms to establish reality and trust within your market.

A good defense is preparation

Two Title boxing gloves sitting on a wood slat table

If you have a corporation, chances are you have cybersecurity. You’re ready for breaches and attacks on your network. It would be best to view misinformation the same way and be prepared for it. The time to act is not after the bogus social media has been posted. The time to act is beforehand. Make sure everyone knows their job and has the tools to execute. Assign tasks to different departments and individuals and make clear their responsibilities.

It would be best if you had an incident response team, the IT director, the corporate communication head, and a general counsel prepared and ready. Ideally, they would run monthly drills, so they are prepared at the drop of a tweet.

Direct communications

Bad speech can be overwhelmed by a flood of truth and good speech. You must communicate immediately and directly to customers, clients, and potentials. Refute the misinformation with facts, truth, and strength. Assure your clients that you will shield them from this mishegas. Communicate directly with the public and the media and work efficiently to debunk fake news.

Do damage control, get the truth out there, and be as transparent as possible.

Engage

If you’re vigilant and keep an eye on social media, you’ll be able to detect a possible disinformation attack before it balloons into a massive pain in the ass. When an attack is recognized, your company needs to act quickly and decisively to identify the users and accounts spreading disinformation.

Engage with social media platforms to get accounts frozen or shut down. Have information, facts, times, and dates to present to the platforms to back your claims and point out where the terms of service were violated. Information is power in these situations; gather as much as you can.

Get Litigious

It will be your last resort, but corporations can go after those who push fake news. Free speech rights protect opinions, but corporations have recourse when a brand is defamed, or the market is manipulated.

You can file claims against defamation and trade libel, economic torts like those that bar dishonest interference in a business’s future financial relationships, deceptive trade practices, and federal trademark infringement for fraudsters who incorporate a company’s logo into their posts.

Again this will probably be the last resort because lawsuits of this type can tie you up in litigation for a long time. Discuss this will your corporate officers to make sure litigation is the right move at the time.

Not a silver bullet

a pile of bullets

Following these steps will help you be more prepared for a disinformation attack, but it will not stop it altogether.

Fake news, deep fakes, vendettas, and more are happening daily on the internet. You never know when someone on your customer service team may have upset will be motivated to try to bring you down. Or when a cyber expert decides to make your corporation the target of his hacking skills. Looking for the why can come later, the first step is to staunch the bleeding, get information to your clients, be transparent, and assure. Follow that up with actions to stop the attacks from that source from ever happening again.

The Boy Scouts' motto, be prepared, certainly applies here. Be prepared, and you’ll have less damage to weather, and take it seriously; fake news and disinformation are not harmless, nor are they victimless crimes. If you approach this as a ‘when’ situation rather than an ‘if’ situation, you’ll be better prepared and suffer the least damage.