What’s The Hype is our monthly PR & marketing recap where we discuss and analyze our top three stories of the month, alongside some honorable mentions.
(It is also a video series which we post every two weeks on our social media – make sure to follow us to get more regular updates from the PR & marketing world.)
Given that most brands recently turned to issue-based marketing (which we’ve written about many times), this month we decided to analyze an issue that has been present around the world for a long time.
Of course, we’re talking about spreading rumors, inaccurate information, fake news and other falsehoods whose primary goal (most often) is to provoke and strengthen the distrust of citizens in institutions and government. All of them have one thing in common – they are created and spread through social media.
In this blog, we’ll look at three events that marked July, ranging from silly rumors of “anti-sex” cardboard beds at the Olympics to an agency seeking influencers to spread misinformation on social media.
Are this year’s Olympians sleeping on “anti-sex” beds?
One of the biggest events this month, for sure, is the Olympic Games. As with any such important event, the flow of news and information was constant. As usual, social media played an important role.
One of the funnier rumors that started spreading is the one about cardboard beds for athletes. In the name of sustainability and environmental protection, the organizers decided to put recyclable cardboard bed frames and plastic mattresses that can withstand a weight of 200 kilograms in athlete rooms. It didn’t take long for rumors to start spreading on social media that the goal of these “anti-sex” beds is to prevent intimacy among athletes.
The news that broke a couple of days earlier about organizers suggesting athletes not to use thousands of provided condoms made this rumor even more so believable. Organizers also suggested that athletes take the condoms with them to their countries and spread awareness of HIV/AIDS.
Once the posts about “anti-sex” beds started filling social media feeds, virtually no one was thinking about whether the information was accurate or not. Primarily because the posts were quite entertaining.
The rumor gathered so much attention that Airweave, the company that made the beds, released a statement on Twitter after numerous inquiries from social media users and the media outlets. In the statement, they said that cardboard beds were sturdier than those made of wood and iron and explained why the frames were divided into three blocks.
According to Mediatoolkit’s analysis, Twitter was unquestionably at the forefront of mentions of “anti-sex” beds, with the number of impressions exceeding 3.5 billion.
As shown in the graph below, the mentions of the “anti-sex” beds took off on July 18th after Irish Olympian Rhys McClenaghan posted a video of him jumping on the bed to show its endurance. But, the big spike in mentions happened just a couple of days after, on July 23rd.
More than 3.5 million people saw McClenaghan’s video and it has nearly 10,000 retweets.
“Anti-sex” beds were not only discussed on social media. Many well-known world media organizations and agencies such as The New York Times, BBC, Washington Post, CNN, ESPN and Reuters covered this by providing more context and background information about the decision to use such beds.
Given that social media platforms have become fertile ground for spreading conspiracy theories and fake news, the question arises whether this, “light fake news”, should be condemned or laughed at?
It is encouraging to see that in this case, media organizations did not blindly follow social media posts and pass on information without further verification. We emphasize this because we have witnessed countless times mainstream media covering topics that arise on social media without performing one of its fundamental duties – fact-checking and verification.
The issue of spreading inaccurate information on social media is neither a new nor a surprising phenomenon. It’s something social media users encounter daily. The “light fake news” as we called it, such as Olympic “anti-sex” beds “only” caused a little PR crisis for the company that produced the beds and forced them to react to avoid damaging their brand.
But what when fake news and information potentially affect people’s health?
This brings us to the second news of the month.
Is Facebook killing people?
Judging by the statement of US President Joe Biden, yes.
For starters, here’s a little context.
As we mentioned earlier, inaccurate and unverified information is constantly circulating on social media. And a large number of people tend to believe in it.
When asked by reporters what’s his message to platforms like Facebook regarding the spread of inaccurate information and conspiracy theories related to pandemics and vaccines, Biden replied:
“They are killing people. The only pandemic we currently have is among the unvaccinated. “
Facebook did not remain indebted to Biden. Their Vice President for Integrity Guy Rosen soon published a post in which he rejected Biden’s accusations. Rosen pointed out that 85% of Facebook users in the US were vaccinated or expressed a desire to be vaccinated. Also, he outlined the steps Facebook has taken recently to prevent the spread of misinformation on their platform.
Biden later clarified his comments by saying that Facebook does not kill people after all. But, he pointed out that according to the Center for Countering Digital Hate, only 12 people produce all the false information on social media. Interestingly, among the people on that list is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. who’s blocked on Instagram due to his anti-vaccination views, but still has a Facebook profile.
Biden’s comments sparked conversation almost equally on all Internet sources – from websites to social media. This time, Twitter was second with 28% of mentions, while websites were the primary source of mentions with 39%.
Although Biden’s comments were mostly discussed in the United States, Mediatoolkit’s map shows that the rest of the world also followed this topic. This is not surprising given that Facebook is present in most countries of the world. In some countries, its influence is so great that it has become synonymous with the internet. Moreover, the problem of spreading fake news on Facebook and other social media is present all over the world, not just in the US.
The issue of freedom of speech is often mentioned when it comes to interventions of social media platforms in the content published by their users. Especially by those whose posts have been removed or user accounts deleted. But, if we consider the real consequences that the conscious (and unconscious) dissemination of false information has on human health and society in general, we can draw a parallel between that and shouting “fire” in a crowded cinema.
The conscious spread of false information is the next topic that caused a stir this month,
Who is paying influencers to spread fake news?
This bombshell came from two influencers, Mirko Drotschmann and Lé Grasset, who were approached by the Fazze agency in May with a proposition to include vaccine-related information in their content. Specifically, Pfizer’s vaccine. The agency offered them 2,000 euros to convey to millions of their followers the information that people vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine died three times more than those vaccinated with AstraZeneca. The agency pointed out that their client wishes to remain anonymous and that influencers shouldn’t mention their video is sponsored.
According to influencers, they both noticed from the beginning that the offer was strange. But, they pretended to be interested to get as much information as possible. Although Drotchmann and Grasset did not agree to the offer, subsequent research by German journalist Daniel Laufer found that some of the influencers with millions of followers did. After the news broke, these influencers removed the controversial videos.
Mediatoolkit’s analysis of the keyword “Fazze” showed that the sentiment of more than 85% of mentions on social media was negative. Also, Twitter was, once again, the main social media for discussion with almost 90% of all posts on the topic.
This topic was popular around the world, but this time most mentions came from Brazil. The reason is the allegations that one of the Brazilian YouTube influencers, Everson Zoio, was spreading false vaccine information. Zoia has almost 13 million subscribers on YouTube, and his videos are otherwise based on entertainment and pranks.
Fake news and misinformation – new normal?
Although both fake news and misinformation have always been present, with the growth of social media platforms and the democratization of public speech, this problem has become bigger and more serious. Victims of fake news and misinformation are no longer just older people. Younger people, who due to lack of media literacy, can’t critically evaluate and distinguish quality news and information from fake ones can be tricked too.
The pandemic has boosted the spreading of fake news and misinformation. But, it has also put this topic at the forefront of many conversations. The latter is a good thing because it provides an opportunity for better education of the general public and wider discussions of this issue. One day when the pandemic is behind us, fake news and misinformation won’t suddenly disappear. But, what gives us a slightly optimistic view of the fact is that, in the future, people might critically approach what they read on social media, not just passively accept information. This shift is already visible through the emergence of various initiatives and fact-checkers. Their goal is finding the latest fake news and misinformation and providing the general public with the correct and verified information.
Unfortunately, the profitability of fake news and misinformation remains one of the major threats to free journalism and society. We cannot prevent their negative impact, but we can reduce it by increasing the awareness of social media users and applying ethical practices in media organizations.
And that’s it for July! See you again in August with the new edition of What’s the Hype!