How can PR solve a problem like fake news?

This week, Home Secretary Priti Patel, found herself in amongst a twitter storm, centred around her eyebrows. Yes, that’s right. A series of alleged expenses claimed that Patel had spent thousands in Primark, and over £77,000 on eyebrows. Naturally twitter went crazy, but the expenses were said to be ‘fake news’ by the Home Office. Today, social media platforms allow fake news to be spread in seconds. Particularly in a society where trust is so fragile, how can PR solve a problem like fake news?

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For those of you who haven’t seen this, a series of expenses were released from 2020, which were incredibly strange to say the least. Liverpool based, Beautiful Brows and Lashes and its parent company Global Beauty Products were at the centre of the twitter frenzy, ‘over a bill for two orders totalling £107,000,’ which were later to be revealed to be  hand sanitiser, ordered at the start of the pandemic.

But as #pritipatelseyebrows began trending on Twitter, the Home Office quickly released a statement defending the Home Secretary. They Tweeted ‘FACT CHECK: It is wrong to claim the Home Office expenses that have been circulated today are the Home Secretary’s’. They went on to explain that the thousands of pounds spent in Primark were to buy clothes for Asylum Seekers. Not a Home Secretary shopping spree.

Of course, spending over £100,000 of tax payers money on beauty treatments would have been ridiculous. But why was twitter so quick to believe this?

Perhaps because UK MP’s have historically faced an expenses scandal before?

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The 2009 Expenses Scandal saw many MP’s across parties, resign due to their luxury spending habits. There were many very questionable expenses claims made, such as more than £2,000 for the moat around a Conservative MP’s country estate to be cleared and £14,0000 for his full-time housekeeper etc. You get the idea. It was not what the public wanted to see their money being spent on.

I would argue that perhaps this scandal did have some lasting effects on the reputation of MP’s. But also, particularly due to the tensions within society today, there is an overall lack of trust and a general sentiment that the government may not always completely transparent.

The role of PR has the potential to combine public concern into their communications strategy and in doing so, encourage government transparency which will the public identify fake news. Transparency can therefore act as a ‘pre-emptive counter-attack‘ on fake news.

PR professionals behind any organisation, whether that be government or business, should strive to provide the facts for the public, facilitating communication between the two, and building trust. If transparency and trust are achieved by the PR professionals, then I would argue that this would combat fake news. As people would be less likely to believe accusations if they has pre-built trust in the organisation.

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