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©Mirko Vitali on Adobe Stock

Why (Fake) News Spreads and How to Manage It

This dossier features six articles on the causes of information and misinformation propensity, and its consequences on society. Research professors from Information Systems, Decision Science, Finance and Marketing expertise, explain the role of democracy, economy, mobile connectivity and cognitive biases in the proliferation of (fake) news. They also share insights on the actions that professionals, governments, investors and the general public can take to exploit such news, or combat them.

Structure

Part 1
How Governments Can Take Actions Against Fake News Propensity
The COVID-19 pandemic has touched almost all countries around the world. The crisis marks an undefined period of uncertainty and fear among citizens around the globe. Such prolonged conditions of uncertainty and fear amongst people has triggered a surge in the amount of fake news circulating on the Internet. Our research highlights the urgent need to arrest the growing infodemic of fake news, which has precipitated significantly during the current COVID-19 pandemic. There is a clear need for governments to plan and invest in tools for identifying misinformation and improving online accountability especially during times of a crisis.
Part 2
How Believing in Unsubstantiated Claims Leads to Polarization
The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered the sharing of conflicting and unsubstantiated claims by public figures. Early November, a deeply divided nation elected Joe Biden as the President of the United States. A recent research published by professors Anne-Sophie Chaxel of HEC Paris and Sandra Laporte of Toulouse School of Management reveals that individuals believe in unsubstantiated claims when shared by favorite public figures, explaining polarization in opinions. In this article, Anne-Sophie Chaxel explains how do rational people come to strongly believe in unchecked claims.
Part 3
Why Do Investors Trade on Unverified Rumors?
Stock prices occasionally move in response to unverified rumors. These rumors often concern corporate takeovers and are associated with a surge in stock returns and trading activity. As CNBC stock expert Herb Greenberg succinctly observed: “Takeover rumors have always been part of the game of Wall Street, but there are times they fly so quickly you don't have time to consider the sources.” Why do investors trade based on unverified rumors?
Part 4
When Videos Become Viral: Why, How and What Consequences?
Although popular wisdom assumes that virality is a random and thus unmanageable process, research by Haris Krijestorac (HEC Paris), Rajiv Garg (Goizueta Business School, Emory University) and Vijay Mahajan (University of Texas) finds several ways for marketers and content creators to design and promote their digital media in ways that significantly increase the likelihood of these media achieving virality and sustaining it. Interview with Haris Krijestorac, Assistant Professor of Information Systems.
Part 5
Managing Fake News
Can studying fake news be good? At least two professors at HEC Paris think so. Ludovic François and Dominique Rouziès explain why and how in their recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Real Story of the Fake Story of One of Europe’s Most Charismatic CEOs”. In this article they recount how HEC Paris offered a seminar to teach students how to manage corporate crisis by using the internet. In the process, the seminar taught the students the impact of fake news. Here is the story.
Part 6
What is the Role of Social Media During the COVID-19 Crisis?
Today, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, have become primary sources of information. They are also vehicles for fake news and disinformation. During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, how should social media be mastered and employed in a responsible way? HEC Paris Associate Professor of Marketing, Kristine de Valck, has been studying the role of social networks in the marketplace since 1999. She explains.

Part 1

How Governments Can Take Actions Against Fake News Propensity

Information Systems

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched almost all countries around the world. The crisis marks an undefined period of uncertainty and fear among citizens around the globe. Such prolonged conditions of uncertainty and fear amongst people has triggered a surge in the amount of fake news circulating on the Internet. Our research highlights the urgent need to arrest the growing infodemic of fake news, which has precipitated significantly during the current COVID-19 pandemic. There is a clear need for governments to plan and invest in tools for identifying misinformation and improving online accountability especially during times of a crisis.

fake news - jirsak - adobe stock

©jirsak on Adobe Stock

Fake news propensity of COVID-19 vary across nations

Despite the global bearing of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a significant variance in the propensity of COVID-19 related fake news instances across nations (Brennen et al., 2020). Reports by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies show that more than half of the COVID-19 related fake news until July 2020 originated from four countries, namely – Brazil, India, Spain, and the United States. The incidence of fake news is low in less polarized European nations such as Denmark, Germany and Netherlands, where citizens prefer consuming objective news and the Nordic countries, where media literacy is high (Newman et al., 2020). Fake news propensity is high in countries where the uncertainty about online information is high and national institutions are relatively weaker, such as Brazil, Kenya and South Africa (Newman et al., 2020). 

 

Fake news propensity is high in countries where the uncertainty about online information is high and national institutions are relatively weaker.


Designing appropriate policies to protect citizens

For better pandemic preparedness and control, it is necessary to mitigate fear among people, manage rumours, and dispel misinformation (Sakurai and Chughtai, 2020; Islam et al., 2020). Hence, from a policy perspective, it is of utmost importance to appreciate the mechanisms propelling the production and consumption of fake news. Given the large variance in the COVID-19 related fake news volumes across nations and the potential damage that such misinformation can cause, we conducted a research to understand the factors contributing to fake news propensity across countries. Such knowledge can help governments better understand the fake news phenomenon and design appropriate misinformation related policies to protect their citizens (Fleming, 2020; Laato et al., 2020). 

 

Find a guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world, on the Poynter Institute here.

 

A prolonged state of heightened uncertainty and fear is upsetting for citizens who want reassurance and predictability in times of crisis (Ågerfalk et al., 2020). We posit that informational and institutional resources in a nation are the two key resources that citizens draw upon to counter the uncertainties and fears emanating from the pandemic situation, and better appreciate the current and future implications of the crisis. Informational resource comprises all the available information to the citizens through government and non-government channels such as Internet, mobile phones, and other forms of technological connectivity (Schedler, 2013). Institutional resource, on the other hand, is the institutional and governance framework in a country which is the second key resource that the citizens use to better assess the meaning of the crisis (Shirish et al., 2017). 

 

Informational and institutional resources are key for citizens to counter uncertainties and fears, and better appreciate the current and future implications of the crisis.

 

We offer preliminary insights into the national-level technological and institutional determinants of fake news propensity. We identify the informational resource of mobile connectivity in a nation as a potential playground for the spread of COVID-19 related fake news. Instead of providing an informational coping mechanism to the citizens during a crisis, mobile Internet access may aggravate the propagation of fake news. We also find that the institutional resource of political freedom in a nation contributes to fake news propensity. In consonance with past instances of political parties using political freedom to manipulate public opinion by spreading misinformation, political parties and politicians can influence and shape public opinion by spreading fake news. On the contrary, the institutional resource of media and economic freedom guaranteed by the national institutional structures can prevent citizens from becoming the victims or perpetrators of fake news. Summarizing, our results establish the key role of mobile connectivity and political freedom in increasing fake news spread in a nation, whereas the economic and media freedom is shown to curb its spread. 

 

mobile connectivity - mirko vitali - adobe
"We identify the informational resource of mobile connectivity in a nation as a potential playground for the spread of COVID-19 related fake news." (©Mirko Vitali on Adobe Stock)

 

We find that mobile connectivity and political freedom are key in increasing fake news spread, while economic and media freedom are key to curb its spread.

 

Governments across the world consider fake news as a sociotechnical phenomenon requiring contextualised policy and advice tools to combat its spread. Our findings do underline the need for governments to reflect and reorient their strategies related to mobile Internet connectivity by taking preventive measures to avoid misuse of this potent medium for the spread of misinformation during a crisis. Our study reiterates the need for governments and policymakers to assess the impact of infrastructural technologies in a holistic manner considering their possible negative effects. It is imperative for governments to understand and develop an effective mobile Internet policy that can provide the right information to the citizens yet arrest the spread of misinformation. This would allow governments to leverage mobile connectivity not only for maintaining public health and citizen protection services, but also for fighting against fake news propensity. We recommend increased government presence on social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram, as this could help in providing credible local content about the pandemic and information on related governmental actions, in real-time to the citizens.

 

We recommend increased government presence on social media as this could help in providing credible local content about the pandemic and information on related governmental actions.

 

Using Nordic countries as a model to strengthen media and economic freedom 

The second key strategy could be to strengthen media and economic freedom in their countries, which have been shown to contain fake news propensity during the current pandemic. As a crisis preparedness measure, we recommend bolstering government communication strategies that increase media and economic freedom perceptions to arrest uncertainty perceptions from crippling the national peace and prosperity when an exceptional crisis such as COVID-19 strikes. We have seen that prior experience with the SARS outbreak and legitimacy perceptions in governmental agencies acted as a buffering resource to several Asian countries such as Singapore, Japan and China, which could quickly mobilise their agencies to plan and execute coherent, multipronged policies to combat COVID-19 pandemic compared to many countries in North America and Europe. Similarly, the already existing strong media literacy polices in the Nordic countries such as Finland buffered the citizens from falling prey to fake news consumption and propagation. We thus believe that along with media freedom, governments should make efforts to boost media literacy among its citizens, which should act as a counter surveillance measure against fake news perpetrators in times of crisis. Educational institutions and the governments should prioritise media literacy so that people become educated to follow authentic news and exercise discretion in what they watch and read.

Results from our study indicate that economic freedom as an institutional resource acts as a protective national-level capability that can offer collective resilience against fake news propensity. Hence, from a policy perspective, governments should undertake proactive efforts to build economic freedom perceptions among its citizens as a crisis preparedness measure.

Lastly, our results inform the policymakers that fake news propensity, especially in times of crisis, can be a challenge for democratic systems. Hence, there is a pressing need for democratic countries to ensure suitable checks and balances on the spread of fake news by political parties. Countries need to develop politically neutral and federated systems to restrain the menace of fake news. A multi-pronged governmental approach integrating Internet security, proactive citizen communication, citizen digital and media literacy training along with the necessary institutional trust building efforts could perhaps curb fake news from further fuelling fear and uncertainty during unprecedented crises situations such as COVID-19.

Article by Shirish C. Srivastava, based on his research paper, “Impact of mobile connectivity and freedom on fake news propensity during the COVID-19 pandemic: a cross-country empirical examination”, co-authored by Anuragini Shirish of Institut Mines-Télécom Business School, Paris-Saclay University and Shalini Chandra of SP Jain School of Global Management of Singapore, and published online in the European Journal of Information Systems in February 2021. You can download the full research article here
Shirish Srivastava
Shirish Srivastava
GS1 France Chair Professor
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Part 2

How Believing in Unsubstantiated Claims Leads to Polarization

Decision Sciences

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered the sharing of conflicting and unsubstantiated claims by public figures. Early November, a deeply divided nation elected Joe Biden as the President of the United States. A recent research published by professors Anne-Sophie Chaxel of HEC Paris and Sandra Laporte of Toulouse School of Management reveals that individuals believe in unsubstantiated claims when shared by favorite public figures, explaining polarization in opinions. In this article, Anne-Sophie Chaxel explains how do rational people come to strongly believe in unchecked claims.

donal trump and doctors - PICRYL

Donald Trump and doctors. Source: PICRYL

Knowing what to believe in the context of COVID-19 is challenging. Conflicting narratives from an array of prominent sources make distinguishing what is true and false difficult. This research highlights a new phenomenon, that we label “truth distortion” and is a major source of polarization in opinions in uncertain environments.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered conflicting narratives where so-called facts are shared without substantive evidence by various public figures.

 

The goal: Understanding how people come to believe unsubstantiated claims

The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered conflicting narratives where so-called facts are shared without substantive evidence by various public figures. For instance, during the French lockdown, a number of personalities defended or rejected the idea that hydroxychloroquine was a cure for the virus. The resulting controversy triggered a number of heated debates on this topic. 

How do people come to strongly defend or reject this type of controversial claims? “Controversial” in this context is meant as a synonym of “unsubstantiated”. In other words, the statement, or fact under consideration, is not yet fully established. In other words, “truth” is actually unknown. 

 

Because so much information during the COVID-19 pandemic was shared across media without proper vetting, we decided to investigate how a preference for a source of information influences our way to judge unchecked statements as to be true.

 

We started with this initial insight: judgments of truth are more often than not constructed, meaning that they are not binary and they are sensitive to context. Said differently, hearing that hydroxychloroquine could be a cure to treat the COVID-19 does not trigger an immediate labelling as “true” or “false”. Instead, people ascribe to such uncertain statements a likelihood they may be true, based on their prior experience and knowledge. 

Based on this insight, we made the hypothesis that truth judgments may be distorted by context, such as participant’s prior knowledge about the source of information. Because so much information during the COVID-19 pandemic was openly and repeatedly shared across media without proper vetting, we decided to investigate precisely the process by which a preference for a source of information influences our way to judge unchecked statements about COVID-19 as to be true.

The Method: Tracing the distortion of truth judgments related to COVID-19

To reach our objective, we ran two studies. In the first study, we gave some preliminary information to the participants about a judge in the United States, currently reviewed by a senator committee to be appointed in the US court of appeals. While we were reading this background information, the participants were asked several times whether they would support his nomination. Because most of the information provided to the participants was positive, a very large majority of the participants supported his nomination. Once this preliminary information was reviewed, participants sequentially read three opinion statements by this same judge, on topics related to COVID-19, such as whether the virus is man-made. After each of these three opinion statements, they were asked to indicate their support for the judge, and the extent to which they agreed with controversial statements related to COVID-19.

 

In our experiment, only about 11% of the sample changed their voting decision following repeated unsubstantiated claims from a politician they liked. It means 89% of the sample actually sticked to their preferred candidate, even if his claims were unsubstantiated, such as claiming a specific drug could help cure COVID-19.

 

We then compared those responses to the responses of a control group, who indicated their agreement with the same statements, without any knowledge about the judge or his nomination. 

When comparing them, we could compute a “truth distortion” score for each participant and each statement, measuring the extent to which participants switch their truth judgments in the same direction as their preference for the public figure that is the source of information. The second study replicated the first study, with statements unrelated to COVID-19.

The result: Truth distortion increases polarization

We found that an early positive or negative evaluation of a public figure causes people to distort their truth judgments in the same direction as their preference. We found that early support for a public figure translated into endorsements of the statements made by that figure, regardless of the validity of those claims. In other words, people would believe false or unsubstantiated statements if made by someone they liked and supported. 

 

November 3, 2020: People waiting for elections's results in Washington D.C., USA. (Photo source: Myanmore.)

 

In addition, the research also revealed that people would grow more supportive of other unconnected claims the public figure would have and would become ever more convinced when claims were repeated over time.

For instance, imagine the public figure supported the idea that COVID-19 is man-made, and that participants in turn tended to believe it more, i.e,. “distorted” their truth judgment in the same direction as the source of information. If this same public figure then states that hydroxychloroquine is a cure for the COVID-19, results show that participants will support this second statement even more than they supported the first. In other words, support, or “distortion of truth” fuels up even stronger support. The consequence of this process is that only a minor proportion of people reversed their early preference for the source, despite the highly controversial nature of the statements. 

Equally, we also found that people who did not like or support the source making unsubstantiated statements, their disapproval of the source’s claims would grow over time. 
Indeed, the minority of participants who did switch preference during the choice task, i.e., decided not to support the Judge’s nomination, and kept their rejection.

Imagine you do not support the judge’s nomination. Then hearing him voicing that COVID-19 is man-made will make you even less likely to believe in this statement than the control group. 

Interestingly, within this minority of people turning against the judge, rejection was actually close to twice stronger than for participants who supported the judge. Insistant support or rejection by participants therefore triggers disagreement about what truth is or is not, across groups. In other words, support or rejection of a public figure is a psychological mechanism by which polarization may occur.

In a nutshell

The “truth distortion” phenomenon - or the fact to support or reject more the same person over time, highlighted in these two studies demonstrates how uncertainty in information can become a major source of societal polarization on a major public health issue, such as COVID-19.

 

The fact to support or reject more the same person over time demonstrates how uncertainty in information can become a major source of societal polarization on a major public health issue, such as COVID-19.

 

Both positions are crucial in understanding the process of polarization. Indeed, possible consequences include individual’s willingness to comply with preventive measures, growing disparities in public opinion, and heated disagreement on what is true or not true, even in the absence of actual scientific evidence. A concluding remark would be on ways to fight the phenomenon distortion, which is the topic of our on-going research.
 

Article based on “Truth Distortion: A Process to Explain Polarization over Unsubstantiated Claims Related to COVID-19”, by Anne-Sophie Chaxel of HEC Paris and Sandra Laporte of Toulouse School of Management, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research in October 2020.
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Part 3

Why Do Investors Trade on Unverified Rumors?

Finance
5 minutes

Stock prices occasionally move in response to unverified rumors. These rumors often concern corporate takeovers and are associated with a surge in stock returns and trading activity. As CNBC stock expert Herb Greenberg succinctly observed: “Takeover rumors have always been part of the game of Wall Street, but there are times they fly so quickly you don't have time to consider the sources.” Why do investors trade based on unverified rumors?

stock market - adobe stock

After all, rumors come from an unknown source and may thus possibly originate from malicious rumormongers attempting to manipulate the stock market. Yet, a surprisingly large fraction of the takeover rumors come true in the sense that they are actually followed by a merger bid for the rumored target stock. In many cases, investors would have therefore been right to trade on these rumors. 

In my research paper published in The Review of Financial Studies, I offer the first rationalization of this phenomenon. Specifically, I develop a model in which information sharing can be credible despite investors not knowing the precise origin of that information—as is the case for stock market rumors. The key intuition is that a short-term investor in possession of long-term information has an incentive to share this information in order to accelerate its capitalization into market prices. As a result, investors who receive such messages have the incentive to trust and trade on the rumor. 

 

I develop a model in which information sharing can be credible despite investors not knowing the precise origin of that information—as is the case for stock market rumors.

 

In the model, a small investor who knows a stock's fair value may send a message to other investors. The message is “cheap” in the sense that it is not immediately verifiable. The sender of the message is therefore free to lie (Crawford and Sobel, 1982). Examples of such messages include rumors relayed by word-of-mouth, an investor “talking her book,” and stock tips transmitted via social media. Such social media messages receive attention. For example, the New York Times (2010) reports that hedge funds and financial data providers are constantly sifting through Twitter for sentiment and news.

In choosing her message, the rumormonger contemplates the costs and benefits of lying. My main result is to show that this cost-benefit analysis depends critically on the rumormonger's investment horizon: if she is short-term, truthful information sharing is more attractive because it ensures that the rumor is in line with subsequent information arrivals and thus maximizes short-term price impact. If she is long-term, however, lying dominates because a successful market manipulation results in a price reversal when the true state is eventually revealed. Being long-term, she can trade on—and profit from—this predictable reversal.

My model thus offers an explanation why investors may occasionally trade on stock market rumors—even when the ultimate source of the rumor is not known. All that is required is that investors hold sufficiently short-term beliefs about the average investment horizon among the population of potential rumormongers. Such beliefs could come from the portfolio churn rates of a stock's institutional owners, from suspicious trading activity by corporate insiders and short-sellers, or from the timing and circumstances of a rumor. For instance, some takeover rumors cite suspicious activity at the target firm's headquarter (e.g., a visit by executives of the alleged bidder) and so the rumormonger may be found among shareholders that are geographically close or have ties with high-placed individuals at the target firm.

 

The takeover rumors are more likely to come “true” if the target stock's institutional owners appear to be more short-term oriented.

 

Analyzing a self-compiled dataset of newspaper articles on takeover rumors, I find empirical support for my model. Specifically, I show that the takeover rumors are more likely to come true (in the sense that they are followed by actual takeover bid announcements) and elicit a stronger market response if the target stock's institutional owners appear to be more short-term oriented.

Article by Daniel Schmidt based on his research, “Stock Market Rumors and Credibility”, published in The Review of Financial Studies, Volume 33, Issue 8, in August 2020.
Daniel Schmidt
Daniel Schmidt
Associate Professor
Related topics:
Finance
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Part 4

When Videos Become Viral: Why, How and What Consequences?

Information Systems
6 minutes

Although popular wisdom assumes that virality is a random and thus unmanageable process, research by Haris Krijestorac (HEC Paris), Rajiv Garg (Goizueta Business School, Emory University) and Vijay Mahajan (University of Texas) finds several ways for marketers and content creators to design and promote their digital media in ways that significantly increase the likelihood of these media achieving virality and sustaining it. Interview with Haris Krijestorac, Assistant Professor of Information Systems.

viral videos - sodawhiskey-AdobeStock - cover - Editorial_Use_Only

©sodawhiskey on Adobe Stock

What can marketers do to make their media more viral?

In our research published in Information Systems Research, we find that posting videos to multiple online platforms make them more viral

As an example, if a video you post on YouTube goes viral, posting it to another platform, such as Vimeo, later on, such as 10 days later, will help the video grow on the focal platform of YouTube. Thus, rather than the attention being cannibalized across these various platforms, posting to the audience of a new platform will stimulate novel word of mouth that may travel back to the focal platform. For instance, the Vimeo audience may communicate with YouTube users and get them to view or share the article. 

 

Rather than being a necessarily ephemeral and unmanageable phenomenon, marketers and content creators can actually stimulate virality by establishing an omni-channel strategy.

 

Based on the aforementioned findings, we can conclude that rather than being a necessarily ephemeral and unmanageable phenomenon, marketers and content creators can actually stimulate virality by establishing an omni-channel strategy. This may apply to channels such as Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat as well – that is, posting the same content across channels will likely stimulate engagement with this content on each individual channel, rather than having a saturation point that must be divided across channels. 

In addition to offering strategies to promote media once it is viral, your research also examines how to design effective content. How does it work?

While increasing the popularity of media often focuses on its promotion after it is created, with which the insights from the prior study may help, the media promotion process truly begins with its creation. Presently, the content creation process is seen as purely intuitive and creative, and immune to empirical insight. My research introduces an approach to augmenting the aforementioned creativity using a process we call ‘content engineering’ that incorporates empirical insights into content development. 

 

My current research aims to help content creators produce more viral media by extracting empirical insights to complement the creativity, art, and intuition involved in content creation.

 

Content engineering involves a non-linear, data-driven machine learning inductive approach to identify whether, and which content features increase the consumption of digital media. In addition to identifying these features, we extract prescriptive insights that can be used to improve the design of content. This complements the findings from our prior study on how to best promote media once it is created.

 

viral videos - panuwat-AdobeStock

©panuwat on Adobe Stock

"We leverage Natural Language Processing (NLP) to identify the personalities of speech-driven videos along what are known as the “Big Five” traits."

 

We focus on the personality of speech-driven videos such as TED Talks, Big Think, and Fortune 500 channels such as those of IBM, Wells Fargo, and Apple. First, we leverage Natural Language Processing (NLP) to identify these personalities along what are known as the “Big Five” traits – namely, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism - which are widely studied in psychology literature. Every individual, or entity created using human input, exhibits each of these traits to various extents, which constitutes its overall personality. 

 

We find that using just the personality of speech-driven videos, we can predict with 72% accuracy whether they will perform better than comparable media.

 

Next, we employ our content engineering framework to identify whether, and which personalities increase video consumption. Our analysis uncovers new predictive, economic, and prescriptive insights. We find that by knowing just the degree to which videos exhibit the aforementioned five personality traits, we can predict with 72% accuracy whether videos will perform better than comparable media. Furthermore, videos associated with high-performing personalities can expect a 15% increase in cumulative consumption relative to those with low-performing personalities. 

Overall, our findings suggest that empirical analysis can indeed be leveraged to complement more popular content, but also predict and develop it. Hence, the content creation process, often assumed to be purely intuitive and artistic, can be aided by ‘content engineering’, or empirical analysis aided by machine learning methods. 

 

The content creation process, often assumed to be purely intuitive and artistic, can be aided by ‘content engineering’, or empirical analysis aided by machine learning methods.

 

So, what type of content makes videos viral?

The best combination seems to be a mix of low agreeableness and high neuroticism. This is surprising, as the opposite, meaning both high agreeableness and low neuroticism, as individual traits would appear to be positive. However, we find that the confrontational nature of disagreeable videos, which challenge viewers’ viewpoints, and neuroticism, which is associated with being passionate about a topic, will be more effective. Meanwhile, being disagreeable without this passion as well as being passionate while being non-challenging and agreeable appear to be less effective than the aforementioned combination. 

To illustrate the aforementioned phenomenon, we can consider two TED Talks. One talk is entitled “3 myths about the future of work (and why they're not true)”, and the second is titled “How to inspire every child to be a lifelong reader”. While these videos are similar in that they both benefit from the TED audience and start off with similar view counts for the first few days, in the long run the former video performs far better. While both speakers are fairly neurotic and filled with emotion, the first video is more disagreeable, as might be suggested by its more provocative title. Hence, being more confrontational may be more effective, if coupled with the emotion associated with neuroticism. 

 

External content from embed.ted.com has been blocked.

TED Talk: “3 myths about the future of work (and why they're not true)”.

 

External content from embed.ted.com has been blocked.

TED Talk: “How to inspire every child to be a lifelong reader”.

"Both videos are similar in that they both benefit from the TED audience, start off with similar view counts, and both speakers are filled with emotion. Yet the first video performs far better because more disagreeable and confrontational."

 

With this current research, you help understand how people react to viral videos. How should these insights be seen in light of their potential use for the spread of false information?

Although my findings suggest ways to promote digital content more effectively, it is true that this promotion may not always correspond to content that is accurate or socially just. Moving forward, these insights on how to create and promote content more effectively should be synthesized with the insights about fake news to generate content that is both highly consumed and is of high integrity. Beyond leaving this to the goodwill of content creators themselves, platforms such as YouTube or Facebook may want to strategically examine content exhibiting high-performing features (e.g., low agreeableness couples with high neuroticism, presence on alternative platforms) and be sure to authenticate the veracity of such content in particular.

Interview of Haris Krijestorac based on his academic articles, "Cross-Platform Spillover Effects in Consumption of Viral Content", published in Information Systems Research (May 2020) and "Personality-Based Content Engineering" (ongoing research). Learn more about Haris Krijestorac’s research on his SSRN page.
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Part 5

Managing Fake News

Marketing

Can studying fake news be good? At least two professors at HEC Paris think so. Ludovic François and Dominique Rouziès explain why and how in their recent Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Real Story of the Fake Story of One of Europe’s Most Charismatic CEOs”. In this article they recount how HEC Paris offered a seminar to teach students how to manage corporate crisis by using the internet. In the process, the seminar taught the students the impact of fake news. Here is the story.

fake news - alswart - adobe stock

©Alswart on Adobe Stock

Crisis management, often associated with public relations, has a long history in the business world. Its founding is often attributed to Lee Ivy, the legendary creator of modern public relations. In 1913, John D. Rockefeller Jr., one of the richest and most hated public figures in the USA, needed protection. The crisis Rockefeller faced was the Ludlow Massacre, where forty miners and their families were killed during a labour strike at one of Rockefeller’s coalmines. Rockefeller, already a vilified public figure in the U.S.A., came under extreme pressure to repair his personal and corporate reputation.

Ivy Lee took charge of the crisis and began spreading positive stories about Rockefeller in the American press. A subsequent US Congressional investigation cast doubt on the objectivity of these stories concluding, “Perhaps a more dubious practice was the fact that his entire bulletin strategy was predicated on making it appear that the bulletins were published on behalf of the operators, not the Rockefellers.” In other words, Ivy created positive news stories supposedly sourced from coal mines owners but obscured that these were in fact written on behalf of Rockefeller. Even though Ivy was able to eventually convince Rockefeller that he should treat his miners better, the “fake news industry” was a direct result of this campaign.  

Fast forwarding nearly one hundred years finds the practice of using fake news to change, guide, or reinforce public opinion alive and well. The HEC Paris students in the seminar were being equipped with modern tools necessary to manage crises on behalf of companies, their CEOs, and other public figures.  

The rise of crisis management is displayed in Table 1 and there appears to be a strong correlation between the frequency of press citations about crisis management, the growth of the internet, and the development of social media sites.

Fake news Table

 

The growth of interest in crisis management appears to correlate with popular awareness of the internet and the development of social media sites, which began in the mid to late 1990s but rapidly accelerated a decade later with social media sites such as Facebook. 

Neither François nor Rouziès claim any relationship between the growth of crisis management and social media. However, before the internet, the development of powerful internet search engines, and the development of social media platforms, a corporate crisis must have been more difficult to sustain across news cycles. Crisis management practitioners like Ivy Lee and his 20th century colleagues did not have to contend with the easy distribution of bad publicity and continued availability of easily findable negative information about the transgressions of companies, their executives, or public figures. 

Many newspapers were indexed but these indices were typically stored on thousands of microfiche films warehoused in libraries. Finding damning, reputation killing information was arduous work. The internet and social media sites make finding and distributing “bad press” simple. 

The new reality is displayed in Table 2. Reports mentioning both “crisis management” and “social media” in the world’s press went from zero in 2005 to nearly 1000 in 2018. It is clear that public relations professionals need to acquire new and more powerful tools to protect their clients.

 

Fake news Table

 

Faced with the ease by which any mistake or deliberate act made by a company or person can now be amplified, François and Rouziès realized that public relations and marketing students would need new tools and skills to combat reputational attacks on their clients. 

In 2005 François began offering the seminar designed to provide these tools and skills to HEC Paris students. Neither suspected that the simulation used in the seminar would escape the confines of HEC Paris’s classroom and enter into the real world of fake news.

Students enrolled in the seminar were divided into two teams. These teams created a fictional company, Laboratoires Berden, with a fictional CEO, Eric Dumonpierre. Berden was a pharmaceutical firm marketing Mutorex, a fictional by effective drug to treat obesity. Each generation of student teams contributed a “crisis” (e.g., child labour claims, an executive’s mysterious suicide, serious side effects of Mutorex, etc.) while the second team worked on Berden’s behalf to tamp down each manufactured crisis. The seminar ran for nine years at HEC Paris and was very popular among the students.

What surprised both François and Rouziès is that somehow the large universe of websites created within the closed sandbox of servers that powered this simulation leaked into the public realm. The fake company and the fake CEO started getting attention from the real press. Searches on the internet returned the name of Eric Dumonpierre based on his fake reputation as a champion of CSR. Job applicants started emailing CVs to Berden. The company received a complaint from a real pharmaceutical company concerning its unauthorized commercialization of Mutorex. Even now, four years after this seminar ended, a search of Laboratoires Berden, Eric Dumonpierre, and the other fictitious organizations created by the students, returns nearly 20,000 internet hits.

The lessons learned by this pedagogical experiment are discussed in the Harvard Business Review article that François and Rouziès published in July 2018. A key takeaway concerns reputation management and social media. Research shows that corporate and personal reputations are strongly linked to value creation. The difference nowadays is the speed at which reputations can be attacked in the current “fake news” environment.

This article is based on: François, L. and D. Rouziès (2018), “The Real Story of the Fake Story of one of Europe’s Most Charismatic CEOs”, Harvard Business Review on hbr.org/big-ideas, July-August; François, L. and D. Rouziès (2019), “La véritable histoire du PDG le plus charismatique d’Europe”, Harvard Business Review France, Février-Mars, 126-128.
See structure

Part 6

What is the Role of Social Media During the COVID-19 Crisis?

Marketing

Today, social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, have become primary sources of information. They are also vehicles for fake news and disinformation. During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, how should social media be mastered and employed in a responsible way? HEC Paris Associate Professor of Marketing, Kristine de Valck, has been studying the role of social networks in the marketplace since 1999. She explains.

old man laughing while seeing his phone

Listen to the podcast:

 

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How do companies and individuals use social media during such crisis?

Broadly, there are two opposing logics. Companies can use social media for commercial purposes or for communal purposes. In other words, companies use social media to brand, sell, market their business (which is close to traditional marketing efforts using mass-media) versus using social media to connect with and co-create with customers and – more importantly – to provide a platform to customers to bond together. You can see this as the distinction between using social media to talk to your customers versus using social media to talk with your customers and have them talk to each other through your brand. 

 

You can see this as the distinction between using social media to talk to your customers versus using social media to talk with your customers and have them talk to each other through your brand. 

 

For individuals, the same axe translates into using social media to self-present – that can turn into the very narcissistic self-exposure that we sometimes see on social media versus using social media to connect with friends, family and likeminded others for socialization and emotional support. 

What particular strengths of social media are highlighted during such difficult times?

For me, this crisis highlights the particular strengths of social media in how they can be used for the second type of purpose; that is community and emotional support. 

Just like we have seen with other crises, such as the earthquake and following tsunami that caused the nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, the terrorists attacks in Paris and elsewhere in Europe over the past years, we see today that people all over the world reach out to each other – close by and far away – through social media to make sense of what is happening. 

 

Just like we have seen with other crises, people all over the world reach out to each other through social media to make sense of what is happening. 

 

I am thinking of the many funny videos about how people creatively deal with the lockdown, of the neighborhood Facebook groups that organize entertainment and practical support to help neighbors who need assistance with grocery shopping or childcare, and the quick rise of apps and functionalities that allow for live chat and video sessions with multiple people. 
This is social media in its core and at its best.

People turn to social media not only for support and entertainment, but also use it as a source of information… and fake news.

This is where we need to warn for the dark side of social media and its role in spreading fake news. Platforms have been slow in acknowledging their responsibility in helping platform users distinguish fake news from facts, but they are taking steps in the right direction. Instagram, for example, announced to only include COVID-19 related posts and stories in their recommendation section that are published by official health organizations. In general, my advice is to crosscheck information that you get through social media with at least two other information sources such as government websites and high-quality news outlets. In addition, we also all have a role to play by not further spreading rumors through our social media accounts. 

How should marketers adopt their social media strategies in this extraordinary time? 

It is a tricky question. Typically, I teach my students that marketers should relate their social media contributions to the real-time context. Indeed, at the start of the crisis I kept receiving long-before planned brand posts that did not refer at all to the situation, and thus, seemed misplaced. At the same time, trying to leverage a sanitary crisis for branding purposes in your social media posts can quickly be perceived as distasteful. 

The best examples I have seen come from companies that offer free resources to their customers to face the crisis. For example, many academic publishers have made online content available for free to support teachers and students worldwide with distance learning. Closer to home, the Pilates teacher at HEC Paris has started a YouTube channel where he posts videos on how we can keep fit while confined at home. 

 

Instead of self-glorifying social media brand posts, brands will be forced to embrace the communal logic of social media during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

Instead of self-glorifying social media brand posts, brands will be forced to embrace the communal logic of social media during the COVID-19 crisis. More than ever, social media posts should be user-centric and not producer-centric. Brands that will be able to deliver messages and engage in conversations that are considered valuable because they provide helpful information, relevant advice or that simply make you laugh will come out of the crisis stronger.   

Stay safe and keep sharing!

 

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Kristine de Valck HEC professor
Kristine De Valck
Associate Professor
Related topics:
Marketing
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