Last week I shared some rather alarming intelligence from the advertising agency, Hill Holiday, warning brands of all stripes about the severe implications of being caught creating or sharing fake news.
The HH research said consumers will drop brands that share fake news faster than Trump dumped former FBI Director James Comey a week or so ago.
Troubling new research from Research Now has only fanned the flames. It shows that Millennials, in particular, struggle when it comes to determining what’s real and what isn’t.
Considering so many Millennials are being asked to disseminate news on both the client and agency sides of our august industry, that’s akin to pouring gasoline on fire (i.e. If Millennial communicators can’t tell what’s true and what isn’t, what’s to prevent them from unknowingly sharing fake news on their company’s/client’s social channels and damaging, if not destroying, long-standing relationships between the brand and its constituents?).
It turns out the 1,100 Millennials surveyed struggle to determine what’s real and what isn’t. That’s because they aren’t being taught the critical thinking skills that were part and parcel of every college curriculum prior to their arrival on campuses a decade or so back.
In fact, 44 percent of the Millennials surveyed by Research Now received an “F” when the company evaluated their critical thinking skills and the ability to identify fake news. And, only 36 percent of Millennials surveyed said they were well-trained in critical thinking. Indeed, a shocking 37 percent readily admitted to having already shared fake news on their social channels.
Holy mega disaster in the making, Batman!
Critical thinking, you see, is paramount in determining if what one reads is true or false. And, according to the World Economic Forum, next to complex problem-solving, critical thinking will be the SECOND most important skill a college graduate will need to possess in 2020.
So, what’s a poor Millennial to do?
In my mind, the answer is elementary, my dear Watson. Do what every trained journalist is required to do before filing a story of any type: verify the news from a trusted second source.
So, if like most Millennials, you rely solely on social media news for information and entertainment, admit to routinely sharing that online content (55 percent) or have already accidentally shared fake news (36 percent), just do the right thing. Double check the “news” with articles in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, a trusted industry trade publication or another source whose integrity for accuracy is impeccable. If it doesn’t pass the sniff test, hit delete.
Having said that, ferreting out fake news is a challenge for communicators of all ages. See how well you fare in this test of recent events:
I won’t tell you my score. If I did, I’d probably be interviewing for a job at Edelman as we speak.
Sadly, this is no laughing matter. In fact, it’s an issue that should concern our industry’s top trade groups ranging from the Institute for Public Relations (www.IPR.org) and The Arthur W. Page Society (www.awps.org) to the PR Council (www.prcouncil.net) and PRSA’s Counselors Academy (www.caprsa.com.)
PR professionals pride ourselves on being the ethical and moral compass of the organization. How can we continue to say that if young practitioners no longer possess built-in BS detectors?
Last, but not least, this should be a clarion call to the PR, journalism, communications and marketing academics who are (or, as the study suggests, aren’t) teaching students to develop critical thinking abilities. That’s where the crux of the problem begins and that’s where it should be immediately addressed.
By the time we hire Millennials, their sloppy news-checking habits have already been formed. And, unless we insist they check and re-check facts before passing them along, you’ll see more and more organizations take a huge hit for spreading fake news (and firing the agencies who enabled it to happen).
And a tip of Rep’s Critical Thinking Cap to Cat Cody for suggesting this post.