Misinformation, Disinformation and the Future of Corporate Reputation

Presented by Fire on the Hill in collaboration with Mercury Analytics

April 25th, Washington, D.C.

When thinking about mis- and disinformation, we often focus on the political and social sphere. We’ve witnessed efforts, often by foreign adversaries, to purposefully use misleading information to distort democratic discourse, manipulate elections, weaken journalism, exacerbate social divisions, and generally erode trust in our institutions. We’ve seen how misinformation about a global health crisis can go viral and have catastrophic consequences. However, corporations and brands, haven’t felt the same level of impact to date.

But this time last year corporate America began to see the emerging threat of mis- and disinformation. We witnessed the CEO of AB InBev – the producers of Bud Light – blaming social media ‘misinformation’ as it found itself embroiled in America’s culture wars. A few weeks later, a manipulated image of an explosion at the Pentagon was shared widely across social media, resulting in a brief dip in the stock market.

The only surprise here is that more instances like these hadn’t come sooner. For some time, organizations have been operating in an increasingly complex and globally interconnected landscape. Information is now impossible to control – what starts in one market quickly crosses borders. Compounding this are pressures on traditional news outlets and the proliferation of new and varied social channels, resulting in a diminishing level of trust in ‘official’ information. It’s no secret that identifying reputable and reliable sources of information is harder than ever.

We know from how mis- and disinformation have become commonplace in political spheres that our current information environment – chaotic, fragmented, and lacking in trust – makes fertile ground for misinformation to go viral and nefarious actors to purposefully spread false and misleading information.

This research helps to better understand the challenge misinformation presents to corporate reputation: the extent to which companies have been impacted so far, where threats are coming from, and what actions can be taken to reduce the impact.

What we found was striking. Most alarmingly, more than half the companies surveyed have already been negatively impacted by mis- and disinformation, with one in ten branding the damage ‘substantial’.

This is no longer an academic, or nascent, problem. Mis- and disinformation is the new frontier of corporate reputation management. And it is only by understanding the nature of the threats can we begin to take steps towards mitigation.

Chris Clarke
Co-founder, Fire on the Hill

Jordan Kraft
Chief Strategy Officer, Mercury Analytics

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