'Fake news' has become a standard comment for the current President of the United States when he's faced with news stories he doesn't like. However, he did come up with his own fake news about a supposed terrorist event in Sweden last week that turned out to be completely made up.
You'd be forgiven for thinking that fake news is a Trump'ism'. But prior to his election, the global social media platform Facebook was taking steps to counteract fake news on its platform.
Fake news is either staged events purported to be real news, which make their way into mainstream media. It can also be completely fabricated news created and circulated on social media on the premise that it is shared so many times that it becomes the truth.
With a 24/7 news culture, there is ever more pressure on news outlets to break news. Gone are the days when journalists had specific deadlines such as broadcast news bulletins and daily newspaper deadlines. The internet broke that and suddenly news comes at all times of the day and media compete with each other to be the first to break it. Often you will see a 'Breaking News' tag to news items that are yet to be fully developed. A stake to say 'we got here first, bear with us while we obtain the details'.
For law firms, it's important to be selective about the news stories you engage with, whether these will inform media comments, client alerts, viewpoints or a piece of thought leadership. It's important to identify news as actual fact before you lend your voice to the debate. Once it's out there, it's hard to retract it. The news cycle moves so quickly now that a part of a news story can become a news story.
Most law firms aren't the subject of breaking news, although a whole team departure or merger make for juicy news to trade press. In such situations, you should have a robust communications approach in place to help you manage that story in the eventuality that it breaks before you are ready to break it.
It's good business planning to have a media statement agreed and ready so that you can ensure facts rather than hearsay are put into the market.
You will also need an internal comms statement ready too to quickly bring staff up to speed - there is nothing worse than first hearing about what's happening in your firm in an industry magazine or newspaper.
You will also want to have a statement for clients of and suppliers to the firm to keep them abreast of changes and to reassure them that this doesn't affect your relationship with them or the work you are doing.
In a 24/7 news cycle, nobody wants to be subjected to fake news.
To prevent it happening, be quick to put facts out into the market place should a news story break about your firm. It will keep clients, suppliers, staff and media onside.
Even as the media continues to take Facebook to task over its fake news problem, many parts of the news business are doing their best to undermine their argument that they should be considered more trustworthy. On Tuesday evening, a video of a female cyclist responding to cat calls from workers in a van by chasing them and pulling off a wing mirror was picked up by the media, after being posted on a Facebook page and attracting millions of views. Most outlets including the Sun, The Mirror, Mail Online and the Huffington Post reported it as fact without even mentioning the source.