One of the most important challenges Public Relations practitioners will face for years to come is preventing inaccurate data, false information, and pseudo-facts from compromising their organisation’s reputation and integrity.
The highly popular TV series Yellowstone has provided a series of illustrations that highlight the importance of this for effective crisis communication and reputation management.
Yellowstone’s examples bring to the fore the actions associated with being proactive, transparent, and responsive in stakeholder engagement; maintaining a positive reputation; promoting the corporate brand and values; managing the online presence of this double edge media sword; and communicating openly and honestly with stakeholders, as well as taking into account their needs when making decisions.
However, research shows that before moving into these ‘responsive activities’, people today are so easily accepting information simply based on their repeated exposure to it. This is where the true value of a PR practitioner's experience and thinking becomes important to the executive team.
Misinformation, disinformation, or simply inaccurate information is on the rise. And, unfortunately, so is easily accepting information from ‘trusted’ sources – either internally or externally.
This is what is called the illusory truth effect (ITE) and it is critical for PR practitioners to understand this in their communication strategies.
Many will argue that ‘accepting information’ is fundamental to their role. However, many often accept new information from people with whom they are working that they would otherwise reject if they had been more thoughtful; especially during an issue or crisis situation.
Most interesting is that research is also showing that even people with superior analytical skills are just as prone to ITE as everyone else.
Although internal fact-checking capabilities are there to ensure information is accurate, these processes are fallible. One of the simplest, but most important ways for the practitioner to adopt when receiving the information is to ask the basic question: “Is it true?” or “Is it accurate?”
Accepting information without asking this basic question can lead to the position where information will gain credibility with repetition. Practitioners must develop the ‘accuracy mindset’ to ensure important information does not fall into an epistemic bubble.
By nudging the truth, developing an accuracy mindset, and avoiding epistemic bubbles and bias blind spots, practitioners can combat the illusory truth effect and guard against negative consequences for their organisation with valid, accurate, and credible information.
Below are some more tips to prevent the ITE and to make better decisions:
Be aware of bias and how it might influence your thinking.
Stay alert for repeated statements that are without supporting evidence.
Think carefully about objective facts corroborating each version of the events.
Ponder on factors and values that influence your decisions to make better choices.
Challenge your biases every time you observe there are factors influencing your choices.
Be a critical thinker, asking further questions and deep diving into content.
Being conscious of the ITE raises your capability to be a reliable leader and a strategic thinker, able to inspire others to challenge their status quo and be a valuable member of the Executive team in any issue or crisis situation, or in developing corporate strategic communication plans.