How Cities Combat Fake News and Misinformation

Informed residents are the foundation of every vibrant city. Yet when social media is swirling with misinformation, the truthfulness of the information locals get needs to be nurtured.

07/20/2021
4 minutes
Zuzana Pison

The rise of social media went hand in hand with an increased spread of fake news and misinformation. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the information chaos in the online space.

Revenues from online advertising and insufficient regulation of social media platforms have significantly contributed to the infodemic. Despite some considerable efforts by governments and social media companies to combat the dissemination of untruthful news, the issue persists.

Cities can become leaders in the fight against the spread of false information on social media in their communities. Below we offer several examples of what can be done by city officials and communication managers to address this crisis.

Fake News: Ignore Them

Studies have proved that if a piece of information is repeated several times, people are more likely to see this information as truthful. This principle also applies to inaccurate information online.

A study from 2018 shows that the more people are exposed to fabricated facts on social media, the more likely they are to accept the information as accurate. Another report demonstrates that when social media users encounter misleading headlines repeatedly, it seems less unethical to publish and share.

Communications managers should try to reduce the visibility of fake news by not engaging with them at all.

When we see an online post that we think is untrue, it can be quite tempting to comment on it to show that we know it is incorrect and disagree with it. However, online interaction with false information will make it even more likely that the social media platform will show that information to other people.

To reduce the spread of inauthentic news concerning cities and their communities, communications managers should try to reduce the visibility of fake news by not engaging with them at all.

Support the Voice of Relevant Authorities

A Reuters Institute study discovered that a third of their respondents noticed a lot of false or misleading information about the Covid-19 virus on social media. Analysts at Bruno Kessler Foundation scrutinized 112 million public social media posts related to the pandemic. They found that 40% came from unreliable sources and that bots published almost 42% of over 178 million tweets related to the pandemic.

Revenues from online advertising and insufficient regulation of social media platforms have significantly contributed to the infodemic.

How can the cities respond to the Covid-related misinformation? In the U.S., California experienced the earliest cluster of coronavirus cases reported in the States. Given these circumstances, the city of Berkeley’s communications team had to inform the public about the spread of the virus quickly, accurately, and effectively.

Berkeley’s digital communications coordinator Echa Schneider recommended elevating the voices of public health authorities to the max. According to her, city communications managers should provide community members with links to credible websites, quote medical professionals in external communication, and shine the light on healthcare experts.

The advice to highlight the voice of reliable information channels and relevant authorities also extends to any other type of crisis that might arise in the future.

Use Platforms Residents Can Trust

For city managers, a solid communication strategy serves as the vehicle for building trust with residents. The city’s official Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account should be the key source of trusted information from government officials to the residents. Yet when social media is swirling with misinformation, that trust might be difficult to establish.

To avoid confusion, it can be useful to have all the accounts integrated into one place – for example, in a mobile application such as Simplicity. Simplicity is a smart communication platform that allows cities to reach all residents with verified, timely, and reliable information while integrating all the existing information channels.

Towards a Healthier Information Environment

The ongoing infodemic presents us with a unique opportunity to develop systemic solutions that could create a more positive digital environment. These solutions require a whole society approach, with key stakeholders such as digital platforms, academia, citizens, and policymakers fully engaged.

Cities can shape a healthier online space by carefully monitoring the online spaces used mainly by their residents and visitors. Informed residents are the building blocks of every vibrant city. Therefore, cities should make sure that the information they get is timely and accurate.