By Suzanne Basra, Content & Internal Communications Manager at Ogilvy UK


In our current social and political landscape, it seems ‘fake news’ has dominated the global conversation. But what does it actually mean? How is it changing how we consume media? And is there anything we can do to help spot fake news?

We catch up with our colleague Iain Bundred, the UK Executive Director of WPP’s Government & Public Sector Practice, to find out more.

Tell us a bit about where fake news comes from

In recent weeks - from Trump’s UK visit to the DCMS Select Committee Report - we’ve heard the term ‘fake news’ bandied around a lot, so much so that the term has become somewhat meaningless. At a moment in time where facts are consistently disputed, what is really fake?

We need to separate ‘misinformation’ from ‘disinformation’. Where “fake news” comes from is different for every case and the term means different things to different people. Overall, I believe we all have a responsibility to track where misinformation affects the public discourse and to share facts in the right way, as well as combatting deliberate disinformation where we face it.

Who, or what, is responsible for the spread of fake news?

Scary analysis from data geeks at MIT reveals that human beings are in fact most at fault for the spread of fake news.

We also have challenges with bots, Twitter trolls and misleading campaigns from ideological organisations, of course. But it’s most dangerous when people take something that is untrue, whether knowingly or not, and start sharing it in anger, shock or even just for fun.

How can Ogilvy or other WPP agencies help stop the spread of fake news?

At WPP’s Government & Public Sector Practice, we work with public sector clients in particular to identify a straightforward system of tacking misinformation.

We recommend a four-step process (Contain, Counter Narrative, Calculate & Campaign), which can be just as powerful for corporate communications teams preparing for crises as it is for brands under attack from targeted deceitful campaigns.

BlueState Digital have led the way on this work but all of WPP’s agencies are addressing it and I’m actually talking to Ogilvy colleagues about how we can adapt their behavioural science-led response to crises in this era of misinformation.

What’s the biggest challenge we are facing when it comes to fake news today?

There are a huge number of challenges from fake news which affect different parts of society – from Government to Media to the general public.

If we step back from the simple spread of mis- and disinformation, we’ve got the much scarier prospect of losing faith in the media and institutions altogether. We need to do something to ensure consumers remain trustful, otherwise we risk reaching a stage where we don’t have confidence in what we’re being told. To me, that is an even bigger issue than how to regulate online media, which is where a lot of the policymaker attention so far seems to have been.

Any advice to help audiences spot whether the news they’re consuming is genuine or not?

The most important thing is to always have a sceptical view on alternative media channels but not to the point that we question everything.

In an age of online media bubbles, it’s important we interrogate things that don’t seem quite right – even if it reinforces our own world views – and before we share things ourselves, we should start to ask questions about that story. Where is the information coming from? Is the source a reputable outlet?

However, it’s important to remember that scepticism can go too far. If we stop engaging with media and stop sharing news, then we lose an important form of engagement and communication. It’s vital we don’t end up switching-off entirely – don’t let the trolls win!