Fact will beat fake in the end
I enjoyed Paul Smith’s interview with Atlassian’s Mike Cannon-Brookes in Monday’s Australian Financial Review. In particular, I noted Cannon-Brooke’s calling out of the misstatement of the facts, as he saw it, about (in this case) energy policy.
Closer to home, I’m witnessing a fascinating public relations campaign from a local residents’ association objecting to a new transport system proposed by the NSW State Government. (Declaration: I have no part to play in either side of the campaign, but I am a fan of the proposed new system and it will run through the suburb I live in.)
As I’ve noted elsewhere, effective communications always includes two elements: facts and emotion. Emotion arguably carries the day. Certainly in politics, emotional arguments are to the fore, as they are in my local campaign against the introduction of new, high-speed buses. Interestingly, though, a recent leaflet from the objectors had, in its small print, a declaration that nothing it stated in the leaflet should be construed as fact, and that they were in no way liable for any claims made or advice offered. Needless to say, the equivalent State Government leaflet did not carry any analogous claim: in any case, as an elected body, it presumably is to be held accountable for any claims its makes, if only at the next election.
So the objectors can raise the possibilities of disruption and destruction, which of course might happen, and certainly could happen, without any facts to support that either will, necessarily, happen.
And, of course, there’s Donald Trump’s active campaign against media outlets (and others) he feels are peddling fake news as he sees it, and climate change in which science (always the victim) is discarded in favour of vested interest.
Across all of these, emotional arguments tap emotional predispositions. It’s a great public relations strategy: after all, it takes real effort to consider the facts, even more to change one’s point of view.
And yet: this current cycle of so-called fake news is only, after all, 16 months or so old. The possible repercussions, once audiences realize that facts have indeed been ignored or denied, have yet to be felt. That will indeed be new territory, especially if livelihoods have been directly affected.
Call me naive, but I suspect that eventually facts will prevail.
For PR professionals, striking the balance between playing to the emotions of an audience, and plying the facts of the case, remains as important as ever. If facts alone were enough, we’d never have started smoking in our teens. If emotions were all that were needed, we’d all be bankrupt by now, having bet our life savings on any number of can’t-lose financial offers.
And, after all, most PR professional are acutely aware of the consequences of fudging or faking, whether by being called to account by our professional bodies, journalists or regulators, or by our individual ethical compasses. Most of us know what it feels like when the spotlight is turned on us, even when we’ve done nothing wrong.
We know that to mess with the facts is a no-win option.
Watch this space.