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Fake news spreads like wildfire on the internet. Only rarely is the content critically scrutinised before it is shared or forwarded - and thus fake news suddenly steer entire public discourses. What dangers does false information pose for companies and how can we arm ourselves against disinformation? We asked an expert five questions about fake news.

1. What are Fake News?

Fake news are deliberately spread wrong information or incomplete information. According to Florian Klaus, Head of International Business Development at pressrelations, the distinction between unknowingly incorrect reporting and intentional deception is important: "Misinformation usually happens out of ignorance, for example that a typo. But when something is intentionally spread with the aim of harming someone, a company, a nation or a person, then we speak of disinformation, i.e. fake news.

Florian Klaus, an expert on fake news, in front of a glass wall.
Florian Klaus is Head of International Business Development at pressrelations and has been conducting analyses in the field of disinformation for eight years.

2. Where do you find Fake News?

Since Trump's election campaign in the USA, the term "fake news" has become familiar to a broad population. It is not surprising that disinformation has become a popular - and dangerous - weapon in politics. But systematic disinformation also takes place in other industries to harm a competitor. "The approach is more subtle, there are no lies that can be refuted immediately, but rather rumours about ingredients or suppliers, for example, so that the supply chain is no longer transparent. The goal here is to unsettle consumers or scare off potential partners," says Florian Klaus.

Fake news do not only come in the form of crazy conspiracy theories, but can also include false product information or be cleverly sprinkled in news reports.

3. How do you recognise fake news?

Do you know the feeling of scrolling through a news portal and just not being sure how trustworthy the site is? According to Florian Klaus, you can recognise fake news or disinformation in journalistic products by the following characteristics:

  • There are many judgmental adjectives in the text.
  • In non-trustworthy media, the line between news and opinion is often blurred. The author's opinion is visible, but the report is not marked as a commentary.
  • A lot of figurative terms are used (which usually are judgmental).
  • Alliterations that are not common in objective journalism appear.
  • There are no references to external sources that underline facts. Or (even sneakier): sources are given that have nothing to do with the descriptions. "Many readers do not click on links, so authors can easily link contradictory sources," says Florian Klaus.
Two colleagues from Ferris Bühler Communications scan magazines for fake news.
How can you recognise Fake News?

4. Which companies are more likely to be affected by disinformation?

It is true: Disinformation tends to affect large companies, i.e. corporations, rather than smaller, local businesses. And not every sector is equally affected by disinformation: In addition to politics and NGOs, the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare, but also banks and the financial sector as well as the energy industry can be victims of systematic disinformation, says Florian Klaus. Hard to imagine, but true: Today there are companies that offer systematic dissemination of false information about competitors. The phenomenon is called "Disinformation-as-a-Service".

5. What can be done against fake news?

It is quite possible that a company suddenly finds itself in a situation where manipulative news are being spread about the brand. In this case, one thing is very important, says Florian Klaus: "Stay calm." The company should indeed directly consider how it can react and what counter-evidence or corrections it can offer. But he advises against taking immediate action: "Often a narrative emerges that remains in a small echo chamber and doesn't even find its way into the news - the broad masses don't even notice it." However, the damage to reputation could be all the greater if too much spotlight falls on an allegation with a hasty statement and doubters are brought onto the scene. It is best to keep a cool head and observe the spread of the news before taking action.

Are you interested in the whole conversation with Florian Klaus? Then listen to our StoryRadar podcast episode with him now (German only):

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