The battle against misinformation will be won and lost on Facebook.
It is the largest social media platform in the world with more than 49 million users in the UK. It is where people go for news, gossip, family pictures and to kill time.
This week the Daily Express ran a piece proclaiming the English towns on the verge of local lockdown. It led to a forest fire of rumour circulating with Facebook groups as the driver.
It’s easy for public sector communications people to feel swamped in the face of a sea of rumour and often hostile comment. It’s braver to stand up and challenge.
Take the case of Wigan in the North West of England.
Facebook case study: Wigan
Research I’ve carried out would suggest that every person who lives in Wigan would be a member of three Facebook groups.
I’ve chosen three Facebook groups to map the activity.
Three groups were chosen. I’m From Wigan with 41,000 members, WiganNow with 16,200 members and the Im From Wigan group (note no apostrophe) with 1,700 members.
Compared to the groups is Wigan Council’s page with 39,000 likes. in a borough of 318,000 which works out at a more than healthy 12 per cent. The health warning is of course that not all the council’s page audience will see an update.
Fig 1. Wigan Facebook audience: Three Facebook groups and the council page.
Visual content gets shared as misinformation
All had content shared from the Daily Express link.
Visual misinformation will travel as an image, a meme or a link. Sometimes it is deliberately created or shared knowing it is false. This is disinformation. At other times it is just plain incorrect which is misinformation. The Daily Express story.
A version of the Daily Express story was posted into the three Wigan groups:
Creating shareable Facebook content as rebuttal
Hats off Wigan Council. They created sharable content on Facebook with quotes from Kate Adern Wigan Council’s director of public health denying that Wigan was under imminent threat of lockdown.
The content had a human face.
The content had a clear message.
There was a clear call to action – a request for people to share it.
Within hours the content had found its way into the three Wigan Facebook groups and much further afield too. In little over 24-hours the rebuttal content had been shared a stocky 6,300 times.
The Wigan content was factual and relied on trust in experts.
The borough’s Public Health expert played the role of Chris Whitty and politicians were nowhere to be seen. This is exactly the right balance to take when talking to an audience. Politicians as a group are not as strongly trusted as medical experts sdo it was right to quote the expert.
Wigan Council’s content was shared in Wigan groups
Each of the three Wigan groups saw people sharing council content. Of the five pieces of council rebuttal in the three groups, three were screenshots of the message and two were links.
While a council can create accessible content on its page that can be read by screen readers the reality is what works across wider Facebook isn’t that. It’s images and memes.
That’s the content that the public sector should be creating.