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A rock balanced on top of an egg for a Meltwater blog about building resilience to misinformation and disinformation.

The Definitive Guide to Building Resilience Against Misinformation and Disinformation

Ajay Khari, Global VP of Market Innovation and Transformation at Meltwater

Jul 26, 2023

Today, widespread misinformation and disinformation fueled by evolving digital technologies have polluted the information environment. Misleading signals from false narratives are creating an “epistemic anxiety” in which the general public can’t discern fact from fiction, making it difficult for our clients and their stakeholders to know what to trust and, accordingly, what to do.

As a leader in the social and consumer intelligence fields, Meltwater recognizes its responsibility to help organizations, both public and private, understand misinformation and disinformation and navigate their impacts. With that in mind, we’ve created this guide on how to build resilience to misinformation and disinformation in today’s digital landscape.

Read on to discover the steps organizations must take to defend against dangerous false narratives. But first, let’s cover the basics of misinformation, disinformation, and the threats they pose to an organization’s trustworthiness and credibility.

Tip: Check out my July 2023 AdWeek article introducing the 4T Framework.

Table of Contents

What is misinformation and disinformation?

Misinformation and disinformation are both terms used to describe false or inaccurate information. The main differences between them come down to intent.

Misinformation is falsehoods that spread inadvertently, particularly when reliable information from trusted sources is scarce.

Take, for example, early misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, as the virus began to spread, false information about it also spread online — such as that eating garlic or gargling mouthwash could help prevent the infection. The World Health Organization and other institutions created resources to help inform the public as scientists raced to understand the virus. But even three years later, when our knowledge of COVID-19 has grown leaps and bounds, false narratives about how it works persist.

On the other hand, disinformation is intentionally created or spread to mislead people. One prominent example is the Facebook campaign launched to confuse voters during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Those social media ads, purchased by a Russian troll farm, helped undermine the democratic process in ways that are still being dealt with today.

Reading Tip: How Social Media Affects Politics

For public and private organizations alike, misinformation and disinformation threaten reputations and public trust with major negative consequences. Because of this, organizations must defend themselves against both.

How can misinformation and disinformation threaten your organization?

In our hyperconnected world, false narratives can proliferate faster than any one organization’s ability to counter them. As a result, foresight and proactivity — rather than reactivity — are essential for organizations to protect their reputations and credibility. Otherwise, they risk becoming the next business or institutional horror story.

Tip: Watch our free on-demand webinar to learn how to protect your reputation in a fake news world.

Need proof? Look to the 2023 meltdown of Silicon Valley Bank. While many factors contributed to its collapse, one of them was undoubtedly the speed at which rumors of the bank’s failure spread online. Notably, it led U.S. House Financial Services Chair Patrick McHenry to describe the situation as “the first Twitter-fueled bank run.” The threats of runaway rumors have only increased with the advent of bots, like those that spread COVID-19 misinformation, and generative AI tools like ChatGPT.

For public and private organizations, targeted misinformation and disinformation can take the form of everything from waves of fake reviews to entire AI-generated websites filled with false narratives about your brand, company, or agency. AI-generated misinformation even threatens individuals, such as the California law professor whose reputation was tarnished after a popular chatbot cited a non-existent news article about his alleged sexual harassment of students.

For organizational leaders, there are greater expectations from the general public to take definitive stances on divisive topics. According to the 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report, the majority of respondents expect CEOs to take public stands on issues of the treatment of their employees, climate change, discrimination, the wealth gap, and immigration. But as business and organizational leaders take these stances, they become more vulnerable to the same vehicles of propaganda we normally associate with nation-state politics.

There are countless more examples of the threats false and harmful narratives pose to entities big and small. Luckily, there are concrete ways for organizations to protect themselves and their customers and audiences.

The 4T Framework: What it is and how organizations can use it to protect against misinformation and disinformation

Having spent a significant amount of time studying misinformation and disinformation and speaking to experts all over the world across multiple disciplines who cover this domain, I’ve created a framework that organizations can use to build resilience against and respond to false and dangerous narratives.

It’s called the 4T, and it allows organizations to inoculate themselves against falsehoods on all sides. Let’s take a closer look at each element:

1. Track

Organizations need to invest in capabilities that allow them to identify threats that can be used against their brands in the form of false narratives and information. With platforms that pick up on “weak signals” of misinformation, organizations can have the foresight to eliminate and counter brand risks before they can cause damage.

Tip: Learn more about business reputation management, online reputation repair, how to master brand crisis and reputation, and how to create a reputation management policy & strategy.

2. Transparency

A strong and trustworthy brand identity with distinct values is a first line of defense against attacks by misinformation and disinformation campaigns. Organizations that are transparent and realistic about their efforts to contribute to the greater good are less vulnerable to adversarial content. But having that transparency requires that organizations have a real-time understanding of their brand perception alongside proactive, timely communications with their audiences.

3. Test

While organizations regularly test their abilities to respond to IT and network cyberattacks, they also need to test their abilities to respond to barrages of misinformation and disinformation about their brands. With the right systems in place, organizations can test for brand resilience through purposeful engagement with their audiences and customer base.

4. Transform

The information organizations gain from Tracking, Transparency, and Testing are their keys to transforming for the better. Anticipating false narratives, building strong brand identities, and testing brand resilience allow organizations to build on past successes through the development of stronger communications campaigns, content, strategies, and more.

Altogether, the 4T Framework gives organizations the ability to repel falsehoods that threaten their brands and business objectives. All it takes is the right solutions.

How to implement a 4T framework

Bad actors manipulate society’s anxieties for selfish gains, but good corporate and public actors need to do the opposite. Here’s how.

Step 1: Leverage media and social intelligence

With media, social, and consumer insights solutions, communications professionals have advanced ways to understand the digital world and preempt crises.

For example, The Meltwater Suite helps organizations build resilience against misinformation and disinformation through:

  • Detection and monitoring, by analyzing vast amounts of social and media data with the ability to filter for mentions from disreputable sources
  • Understanding the spread, by providing insights into how and why misinformation and disinformation spread, as well as the influencers involved 
  • Response and mitigation, by providing real-time alerts and detailed analytics
  • Audience understanding, by identifying audience segments and analyzing their receptiveness to false narratives

Step 2: Adopt consistent, transparent communications strategies

Communications that prioritize transparency, consistency, and truth are important for protecting organizations from falsehoods. For organizations, this means understanding which channels matter most to your audience and engaging with them there consistently.

Additionally, organizations need to be intentional about the narratives they promote about themselves. Take greenwashing, a kind of misinformation that consumers have quickly grown tired of as more companies have incorporated ESG topics into their marketing. As a result, false narratives about ESG can significantly impact a business’s success. Meltwater’s ESG Perception Tracker lets organizations measure and understand how the public sees their environmental, social, and governance efforts.

Similarly to how good corporate citizenship involves taking responsibility for an entire supply chain, organizations need to take their entire content “supply chain” into account. Make sure your content is placed within and alongside reputable sources that do not have a track record of producing “fake news” and disinformation.

Step 3: Use reporting to improve resilience and refine strategies

Building resilience to false and harmful narratives is an iterative process that’s impossible without quantifying and benchmarking brand health and reputation. Organizations that want to build resilience against misinformation and disinformation need precise reporting and accurate data to shape and continuously evolve their communications strategies.

Daily reporting contextualizes the media stories disseminating false narratives, highlighting media angles and assessing impact. Monthly and quarterly reporting investigates trends and patterns behind false narratives, painting a bigger picture of the narrative landscape. With a holistic reporting approach, organizations are able to track the spread of false narratives and their impacts on overall brand or organizational health.

Combating misinformation and disinformation with Meltwater

Looking to the future of misinformation and disinformation, Meltwater is committed to joining efforts with other innovators in the field.

On the AI and ML fronts, we’re continually investing in technology enabling sophisticated intelligence features, like video analysis, prescriptive analytics, and semantic search. (Learn more about those advances in our blog about how Meltwater uses AI.)

More announcements are ahead. In the meantime, organizations need to take action today to build resilience for tomorrow. The 4T Framework is one way for public organizations and private companies to proactively repel false narratives.

If you're interested in learning more about our solutions to combat misinformation and disinformation, fill out the form below.