The term Fake News was used regularly throughout 2017 and I am sure there are some people out there questioning for the first time the items they hear and see through the various media platforms i.e. ‘What? You mean the stuff we hear on TV or read in the paper may not be true?’

Excellent! Now folks don’t know what to believe.

Last week there was an incident in my ‘nothing ever happens here’ town which made the regional news. I happened to be driving past the Police activity whilst the incident was being managed and was naturally curious about the cause. The initial information and location suggested one particular scenario but very quickly a variety of other circumstances and details started to emerge. Was this Fake News or unreliable information based on assumptions or speculation? Either way it certainly took a while for the true facts to emerge.

A couple of days later Hawaii was thrown into confusion and panic when a message went out alerting the population to an imminent ballistic missile strike. Apparently it took 38 minutes to issue a corrective message – that’s quite a time, given that people would have started to react to the potential threat, which of course they would do given the source and nature of the warning.

Any experienced member of a Crisis Management Team knows that Fake News makes the job really tough.

We also know from experience that in almost every Post Incident Review of major incidents the comments or feedback will record that communication was too slow and not good enough. For example, the news reports of an incident at my local airport last month made reference to this point numerous times as delayed passengers vented their frustration via social media about the lack of information they were receiving.

Of course the pressure on any Crisis Management Team is that communications they issue have to be accurate so teams will naturally need to be sure the information is reliable.

Incident and Crisis Management teams cannot make decisions based on assumptions, they have to be sure of the facts, the information has to be validated. So here’s the dilemma, choose your poison, communicate early and risk being a victim of Fake News or erroneous information, or conversely hold back until the facts are proven and get criticised for not communicating quickly enough. How can you win?

It’s important to practice and learn good strategies so when conducting exercises I often build in spurious or conflicting information injects to illustrate the point. This is to ensure Crisis Management Teams check their facts and validate the information on which they are making decisions.

Of course teams must also consider what they can or should communicate. Sometimes there is nothing more to do other than acknowledge the problem and issue holding messages to provide reassurance and a promise to provide more information or direction asap. At least this way stakeholders are aware that the team is working on the issue and is aware of the audience’s needs and expectations.

Experienced Crisis Management Teams will be aware of this challenge and will by now have developed strategies and procedures to deal with the effect but if your team needs help in this area I’d be happy to assist.

January 18, 2018 at 10:29 am
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Category: Crisis Management
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