New research by Kekst CNC Intelligence reveals that companies in the FTSE 100 were targeted by non-credible publications daily during September 2022, highlighting modern communications’ challenge of facing disinformation that shapes public perceptions and beliefs.
Kekst CNC’s disinformation technology (powered by NewsGuard®) identified that 2% of news sources shaping perceptions about FTSE 100 companies came from non-credible publications—equating to 4,010 articles over just a 30-day period. It evidenced that disinformation is a constant, impacting nearly every FTSE 100 organisation.
“When information landscapes are crowded with false information, it becomes increasingly difficult for the public to discern truth from falsehood, and to make important decisions with accurate information to hand… In some cases, mis- and disinformation can cause people to adopt false beliefs that lead to harmful behaviors…”
GOVERNMENT COMMUNICATIONS SERVICE (GCS – UK), 2022
Learnings about disinformation behaviours
Outlets owned by threat actors
Websites identified include one owned by a spiritual group that spreads disinformation about healthcare, and several with known pro-Russia interests.
It’s fuelling conspiracies
Example articles include a pharma company mentioned in relation to COVID-19 vaccine safety, an energy supplier’s commentary on the energy market aligned with the war in Ukraine, and an explosion inviting conspiracy theories on if “fossil fuel companies” were being targeted.
Clear posting patterns
Pattern analysis reveals that most disinformation is published on Thursdays and Fridays – commonly between the times of 08:00 – 19:00 GMT.
Perhaps more challenging, it reveals that disinformation is everywhere, but nowhere: it’s rarely obvious, and we consume it each day.
This is a global communications challenge
Whilst misinformation is false information, it’s not the result of a deliberate effort to mislead and create a deceitful narrative. Furthermore, it’s corrected eventually.
Disinformation, on the other hand, has an agenda.
Companies in the FTSE 100 are coming under a steady barrage of disinformation from so-called “news” sources. Implicated publications are well-known to us. It’s global in nature, with non-credible articles originating in six countries: India, France, Canada, China, UK, and Russia. But despite the various geographies, articles tend to be written in English.
It’s difficult to identify disinformation, even from the most obvious non-credible publications. The most dangerous examples of disinformation often miss providing readers with the full picture of a situation, such as articles that depict Ukraine as the sole reason for global economic challenges.
How to tackle disinformation
The risks of failing to monitor the impact of non-credible publications mentioning your brand name are enormous. These publications are responsible for misleading public discourse and often support other agendas. It’s clear that every large organisation must have a counter-disinformation strategy put in place. This is rarely the case though, as while 95% of business leaders think misinformation (or disinformation) poses a threat to their businesses, only 4 in 10 felt prepared to address the impact.
To take back control of your brand, it’s necessary to diagnose the issue and uncover the threats. You can then activate by identifying and profiling at-risk stakeholders and make an impact by developing a targeted communications programme.
The spread of mis- and disinformation can impact businesses and leaders at any time, and as such, should not be considered just as part of a crisis response.
- The importance of ongoing issues monitoring
Every organisation should have ongoing media monitoring as part of standard communications. It’s important that monitoring for disinformation and other less visible activities such as bots also takes place, as they can shape perceptions in targeted and damaging ways.
- Public information & safety
Disinformation can negatively impact any company that produces a product or service for the general public, with healthcare being a key example. If your ongoing communications programme monitors public discourse, it should also consider the harmful impact of disinformation.
- Due diligence
It is a given that complex due diligence is an essential undertaking before any acquisition or takeover deal should take place. Assessing disinformation should be a key part of that process, as it can break deals worth billions. In a recent example, an agreed-upon merger worth $19 billion was interrupted due to false news.
- Reputation management
As disinformation becomes increasingly common in the corporate world, CEOs and boardrooms need to be prepared to counteract these threats when the brand comes under attack. Key message playbooks need to be put in place and incorporated into media trainings.
- Crisis management
During a crisis, whether it is a cybersecurity incident or a product recall, it’s important that disinformation monitoring is used to identify potential threat actors. Targeted disinformation campaigns become most impactful during the peaks of a crisis, when monitoring becomes noisy.