Be Careful Out There! From Fake News to Fake Newsmakers—How to Best Protect Your Brand

content marketing, content management, newsjacking, social media, digital marketing, SEO, online marketingIn 2006, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character burst onto the big screen and became a huge success in the United States. Borat – a scruffy, socially awkward “journalist,” ostensibly from the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan – took a cross-country trip through the United States, mostly in the South, and interacted with and interviewed numerous unwitting participants who became fodder for Baron Cohen’s movie.

While Borat had been a staple of Baron Cohen’s Da Ali G show for years, the 2006 film marked the first time many Americans had been exposed to the character. From college students and driving instructors to rodeos and local news stations, many Americans were fooled into believing they were being interviewed for a cultural program for consumption in Kazakhstan, something that would not be seen in the United States.

Hilarity, embarrassment and lawsuits followed.

Recently, a Wisconsin news program was duped in a similar manner by fake strongmen Chop & Steele. The duo, whose real names are Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher, used an appearance on the “Hello Wisconsin” program to promote the Found Footage Festival, which was visiting Minneapolis, Minnesota and Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The festival showcases footage acquired at garage sales and thrift stores. While the duo claims that there was no ill will intended in their live appearance and that it was all in good fun, Gray Television, the parent company that owns the “Hello Wisconsin” program, has accused Pickett and Prueher of fraud, copyright infringement and conspiracy to commit a wrongful activity in its lawsuit.

Regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, the local news station has suffered a double blow to its credibility. First by having the ridiculous live appearance in the first place, and second by the publicity around the lawsuit, through which they are admitting being duped.

What these examples demonstrate is the necessity to take extreme care in controlling how your organization is portrayed to the public. While Borat and Chop & Steele may seem absurd and obvious phonies, plenty of established businesses and individuals were duped into being the butt of their jokes. Prueher said of the local TV station, “If they had done…their due diligence, that I feel like is the responsibility of a news organization, they would have known this was a goof, but you know, they didn’t. That’s how it worked.”

With the prevalence of “fake news” on the rise, both the media and businesses need to carefully vet unknown sources of publicity. While comedic hucksters like Borat and Chop & Steele may not be widespread, there are certainly risks out there when facts aren’t verified properly.

What are you doing to ensure you don’t fall prey to these types of pranksters?

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