In today's digital age, where information travels at lightning speed and social media platforms dominate communication channels, disinformation, misinformation, and social media manipulation have become critical challenges for every organization. Factor in the additional risk posed by ChatGPT and other Generative AI tools, and the challenge can become existential. Bud Light, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), the Pentagon Explosion – all of these have become synonymous for what happens when organizations and decision makers ignore or fail to navigate online risks. Bottom line – all of these crises are preventable. With the right insights, context, and crisis communications strategies, every organization can navigate these challenging situations.

CCOs have traditionally been responsible for managing the organization's reputation and overseeing external and internal communications. However, in recent years, with the explosion and accessibility of information online, their role has expanded to include proactive risk management in the face of disinformation and social media manipulation threatening their key assets.

As a result, communicators are the first line of defense against reputational damage and brand erosion – and are often the first to know about risks ranging from employee physical safety to short seller and stock manipulation attacks to adverse regulatory threats. Alethea commonly sees that organizations are forced to defend themselves against the following threats:

  • Brand and Reputation Damage: Disinformation and social media manipulation can quickly tarnish a brand's reputation. False narratives, malicious rumors, or manipulated content can lead to public mistrust, customer dissatisfaction, and long-term damage to a brand's image.
  • Short Seller Attacks: Organizations with publicly traded stocks are vulnerable to short seller attacks. Disinformation actors or conspiracy theorists may coordinate short seller attempts by spreading false information to manipulate stock prices and shareholder value. These attacks can cause significant financial losses and disrupt business operations.
  • Targeted Harassment and Threats to Physical Safety: Disinformation and social media manipulation can also lead to targeted harassment and threats directed at individuals within an organization. Manipulated information and conspiracy theories may be used to incite hatred or encourage harmful actions, putting employees at risk of personal harm and creating a hostile work environment.
  • Loss of Consumer Loyalty: Disinformation and misinformation can influence consumer behavior, especially when it comes to hot-button social, political, and cultural issues. The loss of consumer confidence can result in decreased loyalty, leading to a decline in sales and damaged brand image. We’ve also seen protests and calls for boycotts organized using nefarious tactics and based on false information.

The reality is, if any of these crises occurred within your organization, it’s likely because a threat was missed, misunderstood, or ignored when it should have been made a top priority. Alethea has helped the Fortune 1000, nonprofits, and high profile executives navigate the unknowns – where threats are coming from, who is behind them, and how to mitigate their impact. Here are three ways Alethea recommends organizations start protecting themselves against social media manipulation and other online attacks:

  1. Monitoring and Detection: Find instances of online risks across various online platforms using a multichannel analysis approach. This allows for early detection of misinformation or disinformation campaigns because it looks beyond the Twitter firehose to where most threats originate, and catches them early. In our experience, paying attention to smaller platforms and blogs can give up to three weeks warning before something trends, allowing for plenty of time to debunk.
  2. Understanding the Context: Volume, sentiment, and other insights gleaned from social listening tools are great for understanding your advertising campaign – but terrible for spotting online risk. Decision makers need to understand who is behind an influence operations effort, how they are coordinating, and what they can do about it. Find a way to cut through the noise and get to the information you need to respond, and be prepared to work across your entire organization, enabling legal, security, and government affairs actions.
  3. Mitigation: Knowing and having situational awareness is a fantastic strategic input. But doing is more important. The first and least risky response to handling disinformation or social media manipulation is a communications response. To be successful, organizations need to be willing to get out in front of false and damaging narratives by prebunking, adding more context, or flipping the narrative on its head. But without the right insights, none of these mitigation options are possible.

As disinformation, misinformation, and social media manipulation continue to evolve, the role of CCOs must evolve as well. The risks associated with these phenomena extend beyond reputational damage, impacting brand equity, stakeholder trust, and even financial stability. By adopting proactive measures, such as monitoring, comprehensive risk assessment, and mitigation, CCOs can enhance organizational resilience and protect their key assets. Prioritizing risk management in the face of disinformation and social media manipulation is essential for organizations to thrive in today's digitally interconnected world.

We view disinformation, misinformation, and influence operations as a private sector issue, specifically impacting communications teams and stakeholders. Alethea's Head of Analysis Michael Robinson spoke on a panel at PRWeek's inaugural Crisis Comms conference in April on the importance of protecting against crisis events, conceptualizing business risk, and forming comprehensive risk management strategies. Check out our blog recapping Michael's panel and the event!

As always, don't forget to subscribe to our blog to stay updated on hot industry topics, new Alethea products and services, and our latest work.