Web site fact-check sections help set record straight

Rumors never truly die on the Web. Posts might linger online forever, inevitably to be found and disseminated by search engines. As such, many political candidates, or groups under fire from critics, often host "fact-check" sections on their Web sites to help set the record straight. The sections generally require little effort to maintain, but generate significant payback, say PR pros.

Rumors never truly die on the Web. Posts might linger online forever, inevitably to be found and disseminated by search engines. As such, many political candidates, or groups under fire from critics, often host "fact-check" sections on their Web sites to help set the record straight. The sections generally require little effort to maintain, but generate significant payback, say PR pros.

A common misperception among communications pros is that everything they post online should be amusing or cutting edge. Yet what usually drives the public's interest on the Internet is the search for facts, data, and opinions, says EchoDitto principal Brian Reich. By creating a fact-check box, consumers interested in a somewhat-controversial topic will eventually reach the correct information, he adds.

"Substantive information goes a lot further than information that is simply entertaining," Reich notes. "If another candidate maligns you [or] if the media misrepresents you, these fact-check sites can correct the course. If you put information out there, people will find it."

Groups must walk a fine line between effectively correcting the record and adding weight or momentum to false or negative information already on the Web, says Brian Lustig, president of Lustig Communications.

"The challenge in deciding what rumors to respond to is determining [if] the response simply extends the media shelf life of a story and inadvertently brings it to the attention of even more people," he explains.

For instance, if an outage affects only 2% of a phone company's customers, it might ponder the value of posting information that could make its service seem less efficient than it actually is, Lustig says.

Key points:
  • Web site fact-check sections help counter negative or inaccurate information
  • As with traditional media outlets, sometimes it is better not to repeat false information online
  • A blog, instead of a standalone fact-check section, can place negative information in a broader context

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