How can disinformation affect your business?| Michaela Mrazkova
People have a natural tendency to come up with their own theories explaining situations or objects around them, especially when they are not able to fully understand them. When people had no idea what hydrometeorology meant, they interpreted torrential rains or floods by wicked deities. Plenty of evidence aligning with these explanations can be found in our mythology. You would have thought that we have come a long way since fairy tales were required to help us figure out what the world was about. The opposite is unfortunately the case. With the growth of smart technologies and the accessibility of communication tools, we are encountering the same story even more intensively.
From the Internet to our brains
Back in the 90s all any handyman needed to repair his car was a screwdriver and a hammer. Nowadays the situation couldn’t be any different. People have no idea how it works when they want to basically turn the radio up in a car, let alone their voice control or autopiloting. Technologies are so complex and complicated that ordinary people have no way of fully understanding them and this lack of understanding is the perfect breeding ground for disinformation.
Our brain is naturally programmed for absorbing the fear of a health hazard, the threat of losing privacy or our own comfort is the perfect cocktail for manipulation. Whenever we’ve faced unexpected situations, the Internet has been swamped with disinformation campaigns; i.e. the, immigration crisis since 2015, the coronavirus crisis today, or following the emergence of unknown technologies such as nano, AI, IoT and 5G.
The basis of fake news doesn't need to be completely fake but we are often confronted with manipulative statements, exaggeration, intimidation, or setting a dizzying context. It is also sufficient if academics have no single-valued opinion and validation studies are still in their infancy.. Renowned scientists, for example, can point out the unexplored health risks of wireless radiation without explicitly saying that the technology is dangerous or unhealthy, but the snowball effect quickly creates a myth that for example that COVID-19 was artificially spread by 5G, supposedly by somehow causing oxygen deprivation in the blood (as it was referred to in the conspiracy theory and on the disinformation website Natural News).
How fake news attacks the stock market
Even if you don’t follow conspiracy theories, it is human nature to pay attention to bombastic and misleading headlines. This is how disinformation finds itself burrowing into our consciousness, resulting in a particular mood in society. Increasing distrust of certain technologies can cause embarrassment of their usage and in a broader context, may slow down the growth of the market and reduce investments because the market is basically saturated with opinion and driven by it.
The example will look at the automotive company Tesla, which happened to be the victim of fake news in 2019. The Twitter user with the name “PromoBot” posted a video showing a Tesla autonomous driving car crashing into a robot prototype at the CES convention. The issue with this story was that the video was completely fake. At that time Tesla did not own a self-driving model, and the robot “killed” was in fact part of an elaborate publicity stunt conjured up by the Russian firm behind its development. Tesla quickly refuted the video pointing out that they did not yet have a fully autonomous, self-driving model and upon further investigation was subsequently able to prove that the video had been faked.
That day the stock price of Tesla opened at around $341.96 per share but then it hit a low of $321.01 in the middle of the trading day and before closing the price was $335.35. Even with the quick explanation from Tesla and equally quick correction in stock price, the right investor with the right strategy in place could still have profited of the short downturn and it appears that the video also had little impact on altering Tesla’s value in the long run.
Figure 1 - Tesla Stock Price in time
Questions of motivations were widely discussed at that time. Some people suggested the timing and occurrence of the video was reason to suspect that the spot was designed to influence public perception in general surrounding self-driving cars. We have no evidence of this statement and we will probably not have it in the future either but the important disclosure using this example is that one video going viral created just by one user of one social network can have such dangerous impact.
The light at the end of the tunnel
There are at least several options how you can proceed when you are facing a threat of disinformation. The first is just to ignore it, which would seem like the easiest and cheapest solution at the beginning but who knows the “expensive battle” you might end up facing.
The second option combines using a variety of digital tools (e.g. Mediatoolkit) to help you find articles, hashtags or comments mentioning your business on the Internet. You can also implement plenty of plug-ins (e.g. Stop living a lie, B.S. Detector and Media Bias / Fact Check) or the Chrome extension referred to as “This is fake” placing a red banner over fake news stories on Facebook. Monitoring cyberspace is certainly a basic precondition for combating this phenomenon. However, none of these tools are efficient enough to be fully relied upon. Unfortunately, this task is still fairly complicated and the technology is still too young.
The third possible approach is to consider fake news as a challenge. The most effective solution is definitely to stand up for your business by publishing authentic content and creating public discussion, involving the public as a partner who can help you get your product safely to the market. You can start by asking yourself: Does my product evoke concern or fear? What is this fear made up of? What have I done to alleviate this fear among people? Am I transparent enough in my company's communication? Transparency will establish you as an expert in your field and earn you status as a genuine authority instead of another squeaking voice in the crowd.
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