[By Heather Francey]

While fake news is not new, the past year has made it a phrase our vocabularies can’t escape. Its ability to proliferate across social media has played a powerful role in lowering the public’s trust in the media to an all-time low.

Despite this growing epidemic, 20th Century Fox unleashed a campaign comprised entirely of fake news to promote its latest Hollywood thriller, A Cure for Wellness. Five fake news websites were created under plausible names, each flooded with ads for the movie and topical, click-bait content.

One of the sites, called the Houston Leader, published a fake article titled, “Trump Signs Executive Order Issuing 90-day Ban on Childhood Vaccinations” with real tweets from the President that appear to support the story. Readers were encouraged to share the article using the hashtag #cureforwellness. A piece about Lady Gaga planning to do a Muslim tribute during her Super Bowl performance was shared more than 65,000 times on social media with the hashtag #takethecure.

Apart from capitalizing on an on-going crisis, the campaign misled and breached the trust of many people resulting in a very negative reaction. The film studio has since apologized for the campaign; acknowledging that it was inappropriate given the trust the company strives to build with its customers.

While pushing the boundaries of traditional marketing is encouraged, 20th Century Fox failed to anticipate that given the current journalistic climate, people’s tolerance for deceitful information has worn thin.

A Twitter chat hosted by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) on Feb. 15 had professors weigh in on the role of PR in a fake news era.

Dr. Terry Flynn, a communications professor at McMaster University, tweeted that the goal of PR professionals is to establish ethical guidelines, frameworks and expectations for communications moving forward.

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As professional communicators, it is our duty to ensure that not only is fake news not propagated, but that we ourselves play no part in its creation.

To combat fake news, PR professionals, marketers and advertisers alike must pledge allegiance to an agreed upon a code of conduct that strives to preserve our integrity and restore the public’s faith.

(Photo by pixel2013 via Pixabay)