“You are fake news”, this was, a few months ago, president Trump’s reply to Jim Acosta, currently the chief White House correspondent for CNN. A lot has been spent on emphasizing the lack of respect from president Trump towards journalists, his endless attacks against the liberal American media or his outbursts on meetings with foreign correspondents. In an act of unlimited cynicism, Trump’s strategy is based on trying to turn well-grounded contents of the best American media into fake news.
Even worse, Trump’s and his electoral team’s perversion, headed by the infamous Steve Bannon, consists in having provided ideological coverage and legitimate use to “fake news” as a legal instrument to meet their political targets. In a world where the main media have lost reputation from their audiences, Trump’s team managed to devise a parallel reality through falsehood and half-truths that helped them tilt the scales towards their side in the presidential election in key states.
But beyond moral and political criticism, what Donald Trump did was introducing a serious issue affecting equally governments, businesses, the media and other professional organisations: the lack of credibility by the public opinion.
Intentional fake news and biased half-truths have always existed, either as war weapons in many conflicts or as a decoy to sell more papers, books or, recently, to gain tv audiences. The problem now is their swift dissemination and the lack of time and resources of citizenship and the media to verify reliability of such news. Chasing, refuting or eliminating fake news is nowadays a next-to-impossible endeavour. They are like the influenza virus: once fake news is out there, it spreads quickly and is difficult to stop from spreading.
The only way of fighting the influenza virus effectively is through a vaccine, adapted to the different shapes it adopts every winter. The same solution goes for fake news. To fight it, one must fall back on a vaccine that we need to finetune every day, as fake news finds it easy to mutate and change constantly.
Either public or private, the only vaccine possible for organizations is reputation. In other words, short-, mid- and long-term trust to build up a circle of trust with the citizenship -either voters or customers-, based on transparency, empathy and knowledge transfer (just the opposite of fake news).
Let’s take the banks, a private sector yet inevitably controlled in order to guarantee a proper functioning of the country. Lehman Brothers’ downfall in September 2008 unleashed the perfect storm that ended up in a global crisis, of which we are now recovering from.
The impact on the banks’ prestige and reputation has been more acute in Spain, because the financial crisis piled up on an economic, political and social crisis. One in which virtually unsustainable banking institutions contaminated the system as a whole and generated the ideal environment for spreading fake news and political populism.
Many banks have become aware that the road to recover prestige is improving one’s reputation. BBVA or CaixaBank are good examples of that, in that they are changing their communication policies and investing many resources on personal and financial training of their clientele.
All of those continue being paid for by the sector (even those who are doing their duties), as proved by the latest reputation reports and studies, which position trust in banks under political parties and unions. Added to that, Spain is going through a rough period of institutional and legal instability, as indicates the management of the sentence on the IAJD of the Spanish Higher Court, which condemns the main banks in the media.
Luckily, many banks have become aware that the road to recover prestige is improving one’s reputation. BBVA or CaixaBank are good examples of that, in that they are changing their communication policies and investing many resources on personal and financial training of their clientele.
This new political framework stands on the basis of many American banks that came through the 2008 crisis. The paradigmatic case of the Regions Bank shows that, in an attempt to strengthen the bank’s relationship with their customers, they gave classes on financial education and focused on improving one’s life conditions by solving specific financial problems on top of satisfying their usual needs.
This resulted in more clients, better informed and the most highly reputed banks in the US 2015 and 2016. This is what Michael E. Porter, the guru of business strategy calls shared value. Undoubtedly, the best way of putting an end to the harmful effects of fake news is for our institutions to be able to generate a vaccine that will make it possible to create a link with the society based on empathy, trust and mutual recognition of knowledge transfer.
- Article by Tom Standage in The Economist.
- Report on “The Impact of fake news on public opinion” by Estudio de Comunicación and Servimedia.
- Article by the blog Piedras de papel on trust on institutions.
- Report by Reputation Institute on the American banks.
- Ted Talk by Michael E. Porter on the concept of the Shared Value Model.