How do you Fight Fake News in the Office?

We are online 24×7, connected 24×7 and information is just a click away. But what about the authenticity of information?

In this new world where data and information are everything, the fake news syndrome affects how companies operate as well. In a company context, dealing with the infamous office gossip networks can many a times prove to be quite problematic.

How should organisations address the issue of fake news when it concerns the organisation? In many organisations, the grapevine serves as an important informal communication channel. The problem is it is grapevine, and many times not true.

Awareness: It is important to raise awareness and educate employees constantly. Like the New York Times article points out, ‘Fake news is not a technological or scientific problem with a quick fix. It should be treated as a new kind of public health crisis in all its social and human complexity’.

Ear to the ground: While it is sometimes difficult to control the narrative, knowing what is happening on the ground is important. Leaders should be clued in on the undercurrents when they design their communication strategies. Rather than a formal email or announcements, sometimes, it helps to create dialogue through trusted influencers who have enough of an inside view but are credible as impartial experts on the organisation.

Address Major Issues Head on: While it is good to encourage free speech, one must draw a line when it comes to information that is patently false or violates a person’s privacy. In such cases, the person spreading the information needs to pulled-up and penalised, especially if it is being done out of malice.

If the Chinese whispers around a certain thought or idea or strategy reach a point where they might prove detrimental to the organisation’s interest, then the best strategy is to be as upfront as possible. Maybe call a townhall to take questions on the particular issue and be as honest and transparent as possible about the situation.

Keeping Communication Channels Open: Often, back channels of communication emerge because there is a vacuum in processes and communication within the organisation.

Therefore, it is important to ensure that people have access to appropriate and safe channels available to air any concerns that they have without fear of retribution. Employees must have the confidence that they are free to raise any kind of sticky issues with the leadership team and will get a fair hearing.

Addressing fake news issue at the country level is certainly a huge task, especially given the immense diversity of opinions and viewpoints in a country like India. However, it is much simpler at the organisation level since people are more likely to be bound by a common goal and shared values. Encouraging openness and facilitating a culture that welcomes debate and open discussion is the best way to beat the gossip networks.