In the era of social media, ChatGPT, AI and mass digital communication, plausible rubbish, fake news, misinformation and disinformation can spread like wildfire. Due to the myriad sources and entrance points of information into an organisation, they tend to be vulnerable to falling prey to plausible rubbish. Misinformation and disinformation, whether deliberate or not, can cause significant harm to an organisation’s operations, market share, reputation and decision-making processes.
In this article I provide leaders with concise, research-based guidance on how to effectively protect your organisation from the dangers of misinformation.
The pervasiveness of misinformation
Misinformation (false information spread without malicious intent) and disinformation (information spread with the express intention of causing some form of malicious outcome) is a growing and serious issue for many organisations and businesses, both large and small.
A 2018 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published in the journal, Science, showed that false news stories are 70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true ones[i]. The study followed 126,000 rumours circulating on Twitter and found firstly that false news was significantly more likely to be shared than true news.
The study also found that the top 1% of fake news posts being shared online, in what is known as ‘false news cascades’ spread to between 1,000 and 100,000 people on average! This demonstrates how plausible rubbish can infiltrate communication channels, influence opinion and become ‘knowledge’ at significant speed and scale.
Dangers of misinformation and disinformation
There are many problems posed by misinformation and disinformation entering an organisation’s knowledge base including:
- Eroding trust. When an organisation’s systems, knowledge management processes and common organisational knowledge become infiltrated by false information, it can seriously undermine the trust and confidence of stakeholders, such as customers, employees and investors, as well as employees[ii].
- Reducing decision-making effectiveness. Decision-makers relying on inaccurate information can often lead to strategic and operational errors that can jeopardise an organisation’s operations and outcomes[iii].
- Increasing legal and regulatory risk. Misinformation can severely expose an organisation to the risk of legal and regulatory peril. A number of cases of misinformation entering organisational systems and being accepted as ‘knowledge’ has resulted in penalties for non-compliance with data protection and other laws, for example[iv].
- Increased disruption to supply chains. Misinformation and disinformation have been found to be at the heart of a number of supply chain disruptions and even collapses[v].
Evidence-based strategies to protect your organisation
There is a range of strategies you can use to protect your organisation from fake news, misinformation and disinformation:
- Develop clear policies. Having a good policy clearly stating the organisation’s stance on misinformation and disinformation, its seriousness and what procedures should be taken to verify information is important for every organisation. Additionally, there should be a process in place to help identify and rectify inaccuracies, as well identify sources of misinformation and sources of trusted information. This policy should be regularly reviewed and updated[vi].
- Train staff in critical thinking and information literacy. People are at the heart of any organisation’s efforts to counter false information. Employees who can think critically and are trained to use evidence-based practices (see – https://oxford-review.com/evidence-based-practice-essential-guide/) are significantly less likely to fall foul of false information. Empowering employees to recognise and counter misinformation by providing training on critical thinking, digital literacy and evidence-based practice is one of the most potent ways to deal with the problem of false information impacting the organisation. This goes hand in hand with the previous point about policy. Policy without critical thinking and evidence-based practice is unlikely to succeed[vii].
- Monitor your organisation’s online presence and communication channels. It is important regularly to monitor your organisation’s online presence, including social media channels and news sources, to identify and quickly respond to instances of misinformation starting[viii].
- Collaborate with credible sources. Build relationships with trusted organisations and sources, such as universities and The Oxford Review, to ensure that information entering your organisation is both valid and reliable[ix].
- Encourage open communication across the organisation. Foster an organisational culture that values open communication and the sharing of accurate information. This helps employees feel comfortable reporting instances of misinformation without fear of reprisal. This includes creating the expectation that people will clearly communicate the sources and methods used to obtain and verify information[x].
- Implement robust fact-checking protocols. Establish internal fact-checking procedures for all outgoing communications, such as press releases, marketing materials and social media posts, to ensure the consistent dissemination of accurate information[xi].
- Develop an incident response plan. Formulate a detailed plan outlining the steps your organisation will take in the event that misinformation is detected or has already spread. This plan should include guidelines for swiftly and effectively responding to minimise the impact of false information and showing stakeholders and employees that your organisation is being proactive and takes the veracity of the information and knowledge with which it operates very seriously[xii].
- Evaluate and leverage technology. Utilise high quality technological tools and platforms, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms, to detect and prevent the spread of misinformation within your organisation’s digital channels[xiii].
- Learn from incidents and create an organisational learning culture / learning orientation. Following any incident involving misinformation, conduct a thorough review to identify the root causes, evaluate the effectiveness of your organisation’s response and make necessary improvements to policies, procedures and systems[xiv].
- Use reputable sources and research-backed information. Give your staff access to credible sources, such as the Oxford Review, for evidence-based information and insights. By relying on reputable sources, your organisation can not only significantly reduce the risk of adopting and disseminating misinformation, but it also shows staff how to become more evidence based critical thinkers. Research briefings often challenge common thinking and knowledge and increase cognitive flexibility and adaptability. Sources such as the Oxford Review often conduct extensive research, follow rigorous methodologies and present findings in a transparent manner, ensuring that your organisation’s decision-making processes are based on solid evidence[xv].
- Assess the evidence-base of external consultants, trainers and organisations. Whenever engaging with external consultants, trainers or organisations, it is important to conduct due diligence to check their credibility and adherence to evidence-based practices. As well as checking their references and qualifications, it is wise to check the quality of the information they provide and ask about their sources. Out of date or just plain wrong information entering your organisation through these routes can have significantly negative consequences[xvi].
As leaders, it is essential to take a proactive approach in protecting your organisation from the dangers of misinformation. By implementing the strategies outlined above, you can significantly reduce the risks associated with plausible rubbish and strengthen the integrity of your organisation’s decision-making processes.
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[ii] Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond misinformation: Understanding and coping with the “post-truth” era. Journal of applied research in memory and cognition, 6(4), 353-369.
[iii] Pennycook, G., & Rand, D. G. (2019). Fighting misinformation on social media using crowdsourced judgments of news source quality. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(7), 2521-2526.
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[vi] Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond misinformation: Understanding and coping with the “post-truth” era. Journal of applied research in memory and cognition, 6(4), 353-369.
[vii] Davies, H. T., Nutley, S. M., & Smith, P. C. (Eds.). (2000). What works? Evidence-based policy and practice in public services. Policy Press.
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[viii] Vicario, M. D., Quattrociocchi, W., Scala, A., & Zollo, F. (2019). Polarization and fake news: Early warning of potential misinformation targets. _ACM Transactions on the Web (TWEB)_, _13_(2), 1-22
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[xi] Wardle, C., & Derakhshan, H. (2017). Information disorder: Toward an interdisciplinary framework for research and policymaking (Vol. 27, pp. 1-107). Strasbourg: Council of Europe.
[xii] Nielsen, R., Fletcher, R., Newman, N., Brennen, J., & Howard, P. (2020). Navigating the ‘infodemic’: How people in six countries access and rate news and information about coronavirus. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
[xiii] Lazer, D. M., Baum, M. A., Benkler, Y., Berinsky, A. J., Greenhill, K. M., Menczer, F., & Zittrain, J. L. (2018). The science of fake news. Science, 359(6380), 1094-1096.
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[xiv] Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K., & Cook, J. (2017). Beyond misinformation: Understanding and coping with the “post-truth” era. Journal of applied research in memory and cognition, 6(4), 353-369.
[xv] Millar, R & Hames, V. (2003) Improving the research-practice interface: The impact of research-informed teaching materials on science teachers’ practices. Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Philadelphia, 23-26 March 2003. University of York repository.
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