Fake news and the role of social media in politics today

Social media has great power to unite people. Think of lost dog/cat posts that go viral with thousands of shares. Or the "Anthem Project" where media company News 24 spurred South Africans to upload videos of themselves singing the national anthem to promote unity. This viral power has also resulted in manipulative and even exploitative uses of social media, too. Yet is "fake news" really a viable strategy to win people over?

Social media recruiting people to ideas

The power of social media for spreading ideas (and causes) has given politicians and others the means to spread misinformation for personal or political gain. There have been several scandals over the past few years where it"s been revealed big companies have paid big money to manufacture "alternative facts".

As an example, embattled UK PR agency Bell Pottinger folded and was heavily penalised for helping political factions in South African government create catchy social media terms to sway the public.

This inflammatory campaign included creating legions of fake Twitter profiles or bots to attack anyone who dared to question the narrative Bell Pottinger was paid to spread.

Social media recruiting people to act

Social media not only influences the way people understand and adopt ideas now. It influences people to act. Political uprisings like the Arab Spring (a series of protests and demonstrations across the Middle East and North Africa in 2010) were largely organised through social media. These movements came complete with their own Twitter hashtag.

The power of social media for recruiting others is used for good and less conflict-driven or political means, too. Online petition-sharing websites such as Change.org give ordinary people a platform to get friends and associates involved in contributing (and recruiting others) to a cause that matters.

Social referral is also effective for recruiting in the HR sense, for finding active job-seekers and passive candidates within existing networks and uncovering the useful connections already around you.

Standing out from fake news and being heard

If examples like Bell Pottinger tell us anything, it is that it"s best to be authentic and honest if you want to recruit people who stick around on social media. Sharing accurate information and injecting unique personality and a sense of authorship into social posts (making the identity of the people behind the post clear) helps to separate your social shares from noise like "fake news".

Political parties and companies using social recruiting alike have realised that in a world where it"s easier than ever to manipulate perception and opinion, it"s most effective to take a user-centric approach.

Social media users are increasingly wary of lies and inaccuracies posing as news. To stand out, it"s still best to find your audience, whose goals align to what you"re offering, and make your message speak to what your audience truly wants to do.

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