Misinformation Can Burn Your Business

 In Crisis Management & Media Relations, Blog

Long before the internet and social media allowed for the instant global dissemination of misinformation and falsehoods, Mark Twain famously said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”

Misinformation infects almost every aspect of our society. Every week it seems, lies and disinformation – whether spread out of ignorance or malignance – emerge from the online ether and create controversy and confusion in politics, science, medicine, business, and elsewhere. An unfounded rumor about a celebrity, politician, or organization can quickly metastasize and engulf its subject in a fiasco that threatens careers, reputations, and bottom lines. The rapid evolution of generative AI, deepfake technology, and other advancements will only worsen matters.

Ad Hoc and Scattershot Approaches Won’t Work

Misinformation or disinformation involving a business can have catastrophic consequences. It has led to steep drops in stock prices, altered competitive dynamics, and caused customers to flee. Often, the seeds of such lies are planted by bad actors who deliberately want to inflict damage on the company.

Businesses targeted by such campaigns face a unique and urgent challenge in formulating a response. Reactions cannot be ad hoc or impulsive, lest they further muddy the waters or fan the flames. I have seen what happens when companies try to counter dis/misinformation with scattershot approaches. I also know that companies may not be able to prevent the spread of lies, but they can certainly prepare for them.

Adopting a Whole-Of-Company Strategy for Countering Dis/Misinformation

Based on my crisis communications experience, I suggest businesses adopt an organized and proactive strategy they can quickly implement if and when they find themselves in the crosshairs of a dis/misinformation campaign. Consider the following steps to help insulate your company from such attacks and mitigate the damage:

  • Involve Leadership. Effectively fighting misinformation requires a whole-of-company approach. That starts from the top. CEOs, CIOs, and boards need to understand the scope of the problem, the damage falsehoods can inflict, and the necessity of committing resources to address the issue.
  • Take Ownership. Assign a designated person or team – that will take ownership of developing and implementing prevention, response, and mitigation strategies.
  • Have a Communication Plan. Develop a communication plan and templates for addressing media inquiries and employee, customer, and vendor questions. Establish rules for employees regarding who can speak to or post about such issues and what they can and cannot say. This will allow your organization to speak with one voice and quickly defend and advance its position and perspective.
  • Know Where To Aim Before You Shoot Back. You need to act quickly once alerted to a problem, but make sure you thoroughly understand the source, spread, and substance of misinformation before engaging in efforts to counter it.

If you have concerns or questions about how to protect your company from the scourge of mis/disinformation or need help responding to damaging falsehoods about your business, please contact Amy Mohan at Sherrard Roe Voigt & Harbison.

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