Now 'fake news' has entered common parlance, it's hard not to wonder what is real and what isn't when it comes to what's online.
Fake news may seem a far cry from the day to day business of dealing with the locals complaining about council services or the people next door playing music too loudly, so why is it important to always fact check anything you see online on a daily basis?
Taking a social media post at face value can often have consequences that are wider than you might think. Without tone, context and an all-pervading fear of 'messing up' in the public sector space - customer contact, media or operational response - it's harder to quickly ascertain if something is with - or without - merit.
A lot can happen off the back of a single social post. Consider these;
All of these posts directed at us (or where we work) require some sort of action. What action you take will depend in some way on your internal policies about triaging social media and the response you give, but before you react based on what you see in front of you, it will be worth taking just a few moments to fact check the posts - and the accounts behind them.
Taking just a few moments to work through a list of checks can potentially save a lot of time, money and embarrassment in the long term. It's always important to react accordingly and with a small time investment, it can often result in a very different outcome, Consider taking some extra steps before sending out the cavalry.
Note: we cannot be held responsible for any of the points outlined in this article. It's based on our team experience of dealing with threats, abuse and other content online in a public sector context since social media was actively used to communicate with the public. Always be sure to follow your workplace guidelines and polices. Never break the law and never use social media for surveillance purposes as it breaches their terms and conditions.
Do you have regular contact from this person and if so, is it vexatious or warranted? If they have a profile image of a person, can you be sure it's them? Take a look at their photos and see if they look authentic and in keeping with the rest of their account. Is it a long established account? Is there lots of interaction with other accounts?
Don't ever go by what someone puts in their biography of their profile. Otherwise there are an awful lot people living 'on the moon' or 'down the pub'. Look at where they post from regularly. Are the photos consistent with where they say they are? Are they talking about going to places in their local area or anything that could link them to where they say they are?
Take a look at their connections. Are they 'real people'? It's quite often easy to spot accounts that have been created with a fake name generator. Look around a bit and see if they are interacting with people from the local area that they claim to be from. We are creatures of habit and this shines through in our social media usage.
What types of brands are they following? Are they authentic? Are they commenting on local TV shows? It's very easy to build up a picture of authenticity if you truly are a real person.
Social media makes people angry. It's one of the most emotive platforms of communication that stirs up a lot of reactions. Whether you agree with what they are saying or not, it's still good to do some digging into what they could be reacting to. Is something happening that has triggered an outburst or vitriolic attack on who you represent?
It's always important to remember why people do things;
Assume everything is untrue until you prove otherwise. Be diligent in your checks without crossing boundaries or moving into the investigation world and always be sure to follow workplace policies and procedures.
Make sure that you respond professionally and within reasonable timeframes if you need to coax out further information, then deal with it accordingly, asking for advice where necessary.
If you are confident you have taken all the right steps and made a decision based on that, be sure to document this. Clearly state all the steps you took and why, then be sure to share them with anyone who needs to be involved with the process should any questions be asked laster down the line. This article explains Why logging your decisions is important in communications
Always ensure that what you do is in line with your own workplace policies and procedures. If this isn't currently a consideration for your management, they might be interested in our article 7 tips for writing your social media policy
Are you trained to deal with these kinds of comments? Is your team trained - legally and psychologically - to deal with these kinds of comments? Our article Keep you and your team safe from social media harm and online abuse gives some guidance.
MusterPoint is a media and social media management dashboard for the public sector. It gives audit and accountability for all communication and has tools to help in emergency management and multi-agency working.
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