Opinion

How community managers can weather the fake news wave

In the era of fake news, the role of community management is more complex than ever before. Quiip's Erin Tierney explains how to weather the storm and keep your brand intact.

We’ve seen the rise of the term fake news used in day-to-day communication since the election of Donald Trump, but historically, fake news has been apparent in waves. Propaganda and McCarthyism are two well-known examples.

Platforms that were once used to bring people together are now hostile environments, brands’ social media accounts are being hijacked by people spreading falsities, and there are eroding levels of trust between organisations, government, and the public.

So where does this leave your online community?

Platforms initially responded to this recent fake news cycle by highlighting that they are firstly technology companies and not media companies. However, this does not alter the fact that they have a duty to monitor, respond, and stop the spread of fake news and negative behaviours.

Upon signing up for an account, all users agree to the platform terms and conditions – it isn’t a public free for all. These T&Cs include not posting content that is considered hate speech, threatening, incites violence, and not using the platforms for anything unlawful, misleading, malicious, or discriminatory.

Since 2016, all platforms have put in place checks to try and limit the damage through the spread of fake news, removing financial incentives from advertising, relying on third-party fact checking to ensure that trending topics aren’t manipulated by false news, and cross-checking website sources to confirm legitimacy.

Great in theory, but we know that some content slips through the cracks. In the case where this happens, platforms rely on self-moderation, which is where users are required to report content that they deem is unacceptable.

But whether we, the general public, should be responsible for the self-moderation of content that is presented to us without prior-knowledge of its legitimacy is a tough ask.

As reported by Souroush Vosoughi, Deb Roy, and Sinan Aril in their research paper “the spread of true and false news online”, humans share fake news ten times faster than regular news.

So where platforms are trying to limit the impact of widespread fake news in advertising and trending topics, where does a brand stand with false and hateful comments that won’t get picked up by any filters?

A brand has the responsibility of care towards its own community, via moderation of all online platforms that it has a presence on. This means setting boundaries on what is deemed acceptable behaviour and protecting your members from any action that falls outside of this.

New functionality in Facebook comment upvote and downvote will encourage community self-moderation with the aim that unpopular and “troll-like” comments will be downvoted out of the top comment feed, however brands should be aware that attacks to increase the sight of negative behaviour can be coordinated within groups.

Facebook’s up and down vote feature has been trialled in various markets

Minimising your risk, and creating a welcome and safe environment for your community members is key, so create guidelines for your platforms, which will allow you to take appropriate action against certain behaviour and evoke trust with your community.

Don’t be afraid to remove, hide, or ban people from your page, provided that you have the framework in place that allows you to do so. While you ultimately can perform these actions anytime, the guidelines provide you with a reference point that you are able to use while calling out negative behaviour.

By maintaining your moderating presence so that your community feels safe, and responding to any crisis in an efficient timeframe will reduce the effect that fake news will have on your online presence.

Using your own community guidelines and the self-moderation tools that are in place with your platform, your community will weather the fake news wave and will come out stronger on the other side.

Erin Tierney is community consultant at Quiip.

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