by Neil Hershberg, Senior Vice President, Global Media for Business Wire
Recent news stories on companies victimized by false press releases, fake news stories and bogus web sites describe the perpetrators as “pranksters,” and dismiss their actions as “spoofs” and “stunts.”
According to my dictionary, the more appropriate term for activities that deliberately seek to deceive others is FRAUD. And when those actions affect the capital markets, the regulatory authorities are likely to weigh in with their own lengthy lexicon of legal definitions that will put this important issue in its proper perspective.
Several well-known companies have recently been traumatized by a troubling trend known as “corporate PR hijacking.” These elaborate campaigns have included fake press releases complete with quotes attributed to actual company executives, counterfeit web sites, and fake news stories appearing on phony sites masquerading as legitimate, well-known news outlets. Companies that reportedly have fallen prey to disinformation tactics include BP, Halliburton, Dow Chemical, Exxon Mobil and, most recently, Chevron.
Bona fide media organizations have unwittingly become trapped in this bewildering “House of Mirrors,” conveying erroneous information to the marketplace. These so-called stunts have a habit of snowballing, gaining dangerous momentum that can do irreparable harm.
“The issue of fake PR is one that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, and it remains to be seen if marketers and agencies can figure out a way to effectively combat the seemingly greater number of individuals who seem eager to participate in such efforts,” observed Advertising Age.
The challenge of separating fact from fiction on the web certainly isn’t new.
Paul Boutin, writing in The New York Times, said it best: “On the Internet, every day is April Fool’s Day.” [March 31, 2010]
While portrayed in media accounts as a creative way for critics to convey their message, the reality is that corporate PR hijacking has real victims and unintended consequences.
- Corporate reputation is a company’s most prized asset. These surreptitious attacks have the potential to cause monumental damage;
- The integrity of all media is at risk as false information is unintentionally disseminated;
- Valuations of public companies can be affected as the market reacts to erroneous reports.
In other words, we’re past the point of simple pranks, stunts and spoofs. We’re talking serious business, with major implications for all market participants.
Under these circumstances, the trusted role of Business Wire as a credible news source is more important than ever.
While no organization is totally infallible, Business Wire combines proprietary technology with the largest editorial staff in the industry to deliver some 1,000 stories daily over its patented news delivery platform to the global media, the investment community, and consumers.
Business Wire Connect, our web-based order entry system, enables us to authenticate and validate all issuers. It has been operational since 1998, and is continuously enhanced and upgraded. Our network systems and editorial workflow procedures are independently audited on an annual basis by the world’s leading accounting firms, a mandatory requirement for re-certification as a sanctioned regulatory disclosure service in multiple jurisdictions.
We also realize, however, the limits of technology and that there is no substitute for human intelligence. We have a seasoned staff of close to 200 editors worldwide who vet copy prior to distribution. We are proud to boast that we have the highest editorial accuracy rate in the industry.
While several of our competitors have recently introduced “do-it-yourself” platforms, our goal is be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. There is enough misinformation floating around without our providing yet another pass-through conduit.
Based on our almost half-century performance standards, Business Wire has earned its reputation for credibility in news rooms and trading houses worldwide. In fact, the world’s leading financial information platforms and international news agencies allow us to “auto-publish” our content directly on to their systems, a true testament to our enviable track record.
We appreciate that everyone is understandably mindful of costs these days — as are we. It is especially important, however, to factor in the priceless value of credibility, reliability and trust in any deliberation, qualities that are of paramount importance in today’s chaotic information environment.