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29Aug

When memory plays you false

When memory plays you false

A recent article in BBC Tech News looked into how people can be both misled by fake news and then be unable to escape the memory of it. This was even after they had been told that the story was untrue.

We all know how bad news can stick to a person or a brand like glue and the term “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” has been around a long time.

What is radically different now though is how easily fake content can be made to look authentic and how widely and rapidly it can be distributed online. So what can those of us in marketing and communications do when a fake news issue comes up?

Well, deny it of course, and present the evidence to refute any allegations or false information. However, dealing with lingering false memories may require further strategies.

Supporting entrenched opinions

The BBC Report “Fake news is reinforced by false memories” relates to research using a sample of over 3,000 volunteer participants.

What made this survey unique was because it examined misinformation and fake memories in the context of a real world political event, namely the Irish referendum on legalising abortion held in 2018. The results were subsequently published in the Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which is based in Washington DC.

Legalising abortion in the Republic of Ireland was an issue that generated deeply held views and the survey sample included people on both sides of the argument. In the week leading up to the vote, these volunteers were presented with both true and fake news stories, the latter involving spurious allegations concerning each rival campaign.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those questioned were more likely to believe fake news scandals concerning the opposing side. What was unexpected was how subsequent cognitive tests showed that false news memories could linger in the mind even after they had been totally disproved.

Not just a political issue

Dr Gillian Murphy of University College Cork told the BBC that: "Memory is a reconstructive process and we are vulnerable to suggestion distorting our recollections, without our conscious awareness. The implications for any upcoming elections are that voters are vulnerable to not just believing a fake news story but falsely recalling that the [made-up] event truly happened."

However, the challenge of overcoming the fallout from misrepresentation of the facts goes way beyond politics. You only have to remember what harmful effects have been caused by the discredited scientific study linking the MMR vaccine to autism, where apprehension about this invaluable protection against measles, mumps and rubella still lingers in the minds of many parents.

Unfortunately, social media can be instrumental in fast-tracking false and untrustworthy information to the public before it can be examined and refuted.

Trust the messenger, trust the message

Social networks exert minimal editorial control over content posted on their platforms, which can make businesses vulnerable to misrepresentation by unscrupulous competitors or others with malicious intent. Nevertheless, they also offer a tremendous potential for brands to raise positive target audience awareness.

Building a proactive presence on social media is important for businesses and can be all the more effective when combined with marketing and communications strategies using other online channels.  Generating confidence in a brand through accurate, verifiable information, helpful advice and pleasurable engagement can build impermeable barriers against false news. If you trust the messenger then you are likely to trust the message and memory retention in your target audiences can be a real asset.

Please contact BBI Brandboost to discuss digital marketing and social media strategies to build positive memories and awareness of the high quality products and services your business has to offer.  

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