In recent years, India has seen a significant increase in websites that publish sensationalist, factually dubious and outright false stories. These “fake news” websites, often designed to mimic the appearance of legitimate news outlets, spread misinformation and propaganda on a massive scale through social media.
This proliferation of fake news and misinformation has had a notable impact on the public relations profession in India. As influencer marketing and thought leadership become increasingly important elements of PR strategy, the credibility and integrity of the platforms PR professionals utilize have been called into question.
Many of these supposedly journalistic websites will publish paid articles and “exclusive interviews” without properly disclosing that the content is sponsored by a company or individual. This can result in a false perception that the content is unbiased news rather than a form of native advertising. This practice erodes audience trust over time.
Some PR agencies and professionals have faced criticism for utilizing websites and publishers known to have published misleading or deceptive stories in the past. While not directly responsible for the fake news itself, the choice to associate with disreputable sites reflects poorly on PR firms and risks damaging their clients’ reputations as well.
To maintain high ethical standards as reputational managers and influencers, public relations pros in India will need to exercise more care and perform proper due diligence into potential media partnerships. Firms may choose to shy away from websites prone to misinformation regardless of their traffic numbers or apparent influence.
With the ease of building websites today, the number of fake news purveyors can shift and grow very quickly. As the media scenario in India continues evolving rapidly, publicists have an obligation to their clients and society as a whole to place brand messages and thought leadership content on trusted platforms with an established commitment to journalistic principles and editorial integrity.
The onus is on PR firms to vet publishers and avoid those infamous for misinforming or deceiving readers, no matter the potential short-term reach or visibility provided.