Clay Adams | January 5th, 2017
It was Ivy Lee who said “Tell the truth, because sooner or later the public will find out anyway”.
For those outside the communications profession, Ivy Lee is the man credited as the founder of modern public relations. He uttered those words a century ago. It seems we haven’t learned a lot since then.
Welcome to 2017 – the year of the Rooster; Canada’s 150th birthday; the World Expo in Kazakhstan (where?); and when a TV celebrity becomes President of the United States.
Sadly perhaps, the latter isn’t fake news which, put simply, is news presented as being true that isn’t. And people are falling for it. Easily.
A classic example is the plastic rice invasion. It hit VCH over the holidays when a vague YouTube video surfaced alleging an local restaurant was using “plastic” or manufactured rice in its meals. Now I don’t speak Cantonese so can’t translate, but it seems dubious. Some close up shots of rice being squished and not-as-easily squished aimed to suggest something was amiss. No evidence of plastic or other substances and no attempt to raise the issue with the restaurant owner – although the video identifies the restaurant several times.
The posting attracted the attention of the local Asian media and, in turn, some mainstream media who wanted to know what VCH was going do about this obvious attempt to poison us all, albeit one fried rice dish at a time. We respond to every media call regardless of how silly – and we get some silly ones, believe me – or serious it may be. Our public health folks were alerted and, equally obligated, investigated. They found no evidence of plastic rice.
It is a story with origins several years back and seems to target African and Asian nations, presumably because their health and food regulations aren’t as rigid as ours. But, as this piece from Snopes.com shows, there is little to show the story has a grain of truth to it.
In my younger days as a tabloid newspaper journalist, we worked to the adage “never let facts get in the way of a good story”. Tabloid journalism was an art form, taking (or creating) a rumour and using sources “close to…” or “who can’t be identified” to essentially validate it. Was it honorable? No. Was it respectful? Hell no! Was it fun? Absolutely.
You see, in those days of Remingtons and snail mail, newspapers actually made money. Such stories were essentially entertainment. Some may have been offended by what we wrote but most found them amusing. But unlike today, few took them seriously.
Move ahead to 2017 and we have fake news websites all over the internet. Many masquerade as legitimate sites and I encourage you to check out Ryan Holiday’s book, ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’, if you want to see social media manipulation at work.
Not only is the fundamental need for truth at risk, but so are lives. Case in point is Pizzagate. It was laughable in its origins but few did anything to stop the rubbish until a “self-investigator” entered the restaurant with an automatic weapon. Thankfully, no one was hurt. At least not by a bullet.
In the age of social media, truth seems to have been lost. It is now about being the first with the story and for others to confirm the details. These are dangerous times and history is littered with instances where fake news has threatened corporations, brought down leaders and cost lives. Most of us are smart, responsible people. Let’s also be objective. Don’t assume everything we hear and read is true. If something smells funny, then consider that’s because it actually stinks.
And feel free to eat rice. Despite the stories, there is still no evidence of anyone consuming “plastic rice”.
Have you seen, heard or experienced a fake news story? Please share. We may all learn something new.