Briefing Notes: Fake news and how it impacts on the charity sector

robin15th February 2018

We launched our new research report ‘Faking It: Fake News and How it Impacts on the Charity Sector‘ at a special event with author, Helen Magee presenting the key findings and a panel of report contributors.



Event discussion

Helen presented her findings, highlighting the potent combination of increasingly polarised content online and a decline in trust, making this a challenging environment for NGOs. She spoke of the speed, scale and lack of regulation online, necessitating an immediate response to fake news. Fake news can be about NGOs, spread by NGOs (inadvertently or otherwise), take place in the field when rumours fly around or it can consist of attacks on individuals. The report looks at several instances where NGOs such as Save the Children, MSF and British Red Cross have been the victims of fake news and one where the CEO of ActionAid was falsely accused of supporting ISIS.

Helen outlined some recommendations for NGOs:

  • Build and maintain trust through accuracy and transparency
  • Monitor and challenge fake news whenever it occurs
  • Train staff in verification methods so that all information sources are authenticated

Sean described how Save the Children had been the victim of fake news, falsely accused of collaborating with, and taking money from, traffickers in the Mediterranean. This was a false accusation that started online and found its way onto MailOnline which has a big audience reach. It was hard for Save to respond effectively other than by denying the story. Sean spoke of the dilemma of whether to respond or not – sometimes fake news is best ignored. This was a point that was raised again in the audience Q and A.

Patrick said that fact checking was useful but not a solution in itself. Sometimes a powerful rebuttal online did gain traction. But he argued that it was essential that the public should change their behaviour and think more carefully before sharing online. Media literacy was also an issue raised by the audience.

Erin warned that outrage online might not be authentic – it could be orchestrated by someone. There were many people who were deliberately seeking to create chaos. She warned that overall the amount of fake news might be a lot less than we think and it might be less damaging.

The panel was asked how NGOs should respond to fake news. Clearly facts were helpful but often they may have less impact than emotion. Sean advised on a mix of facts and making an emotional connection. He spoke about the Rohingya. NGOs had to show a dogged determination to gather evidence and record the truth.

Sean was also asked about how Save was attempting to maintain trust amongst its supporters – he spoke about the use of data, video and transparency – and said they were thinking of using livestreaming as a way of showing supporters, particularly young ones, how their money was being spent.

There was agreement by the panel that NGOs needed to join forces and work together, sharing experience, to tackle fake news.

Another issue raised by the audience was the challenge of mobilising supporters so that they could be active in rebuttal and in speaking up on behalf of NGOs. Oxfam’s supporters had been relatively quiet during the current scandal.

Read all the tweets from the Faking It report launch event

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