What is a manager’s role in stopping fake news in the workplace?
Misinformation comes in many shapes and sizes and it affects your company, too. Everything from sharing fake news to propagating rumors can spell trouble, especially among larger collectives.
Letting these things run unchecked risks eroding trust in the company, creating conflict between employees, impacting productivity, and lead to costly misunderstandings. For instance, an unhealthy work environment might push good workers to look for other opportunities.
It’s increasingly important for managers to moderate company discussion channels and settings to avoid the negative impacts of nonsense. This is not to say you need to play the role of thought police, tell people what to think or intrude on every employee discussion. Doing so will likely only serve to further aggravate a situation.
Rather, the manager’s primary role in stopping the spread of misinformation in the company is to equip their team with the tools, resources, and know-how to be able to evaluate the things they share and discuss on company channels. Particularly as this relates to communication about the company. And only step in when it’s absolutely necessary.
What is misinformation in the workplace and how to identify it?
While there’s certainly something to be said about our collective responsibility to stop fake news at large, managers cannot realistically be the sole arbiters of truth and verify everything that’s shared. Moreover, misinformation in the workplace can include rumors, clickbait, conspiracy theories, and outright lies and even the best-trained leaders and employees are susceptible to falling victim to believable pieces of information.
Accordingly, the type of misinformation that should come under scrutiny in the company is harmful office gossip and inflammatory news — the things that are most likely to contribute to office toxicity.
Understanding what qualifies as inflammatory is a challenge in itself, however, knowing your team’s backgrounds and getting to know them as you work together can go a long way in understanding where they stand. Plus, as a general rule of thumb — hot button issues are best left untouched unless it is absolutely clear that everybody’s on the same page.
3 ways how to stop fake news in the workplace
It’s up to the company leadership to put in the foundations for a healthy office information space. Let’s look at 3 ways how this can be achieved.
1. Foster a culture of transparency
Fight bad communication with good communication. Office rumors and misinformation about the company most commonly sprout when there is an information vacuum. The answer is self-evident — don’t let such a vacuum exist.
Continuous updates and interaction from higher-ups providing official company stance and views on social, corporate, and financial topics can curb the spread of inaccurate information and get everyone aligned.
Openly discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly demonstrates trust in the team and encourages public discussions that don’t allow resentment to fester in the shadows. Of course, the communication needs to be two-way and offer the team a medium through which they can express themselves.
With tools such as SpeakUp — an anonymous messaging board for companies — even the timidest employees can make themselves heard without fear of repercussions.
Openness in company-related discussions can also have a knock-on effect on non-job-related conversations, as people learn to communicate transparently and without hostility.
2. Educate the team on identifying fake news
We’ll say it again, but it bears repeating — the manager shouldn’t be an arbiter of truth. Teaching employees to critically evaluate information is the single best thing you can do in stopping fake news in the workplace from spreading and take some of the weight off the manager’s shoulders.
From hosting a critical thinking workshop to disseminating information about tactics to verify content accuracy, education is one of the strongest tools in your arsenal. And the managers overseeing their team have to be proficient at these things themselves.
When encountering potential misinformation in the company, you should:
- Check its veracity — read the information, check its sources, vet the author, and cross-check with other sources.
- Examine your biases — get acquainted with some of the most common critical thinking errors and ensure you’re not falling victim to them, e.g. confirmation bias, availability bias, anchoring bias, etc.
- Be mindful of who’s sharing it — understanding where the news is coming from can go a long way in telling you how to respond diplomatically.
If every person in your team understands the basic principles of information analysis, then not only will you slow fake news, but you’ll also gain a more competent team.
3. Lead by example
Knowing how to spot misinformation is not enough. Things often appear believable both on the surface and after deeper investigation, hence it’s all but inevitable that some things will slip through.
Don’t hesitate to frequently and publicly change your mind when you’ve become aware of new facts. Even if it’s regarding some discussion that took place months prior, revisiting it and explaining what has changed (e.g. you have lost faith in the source) can go a long way in changing the minds of your peers who still take the now-revealed-to-be-dubious information as true.
Moreover, it will demonstrate how to make use of the second most important tool in battling disinformation — changing your mind. The goal, after all, is not the exercise of spotting fake news. The goal is to believe true things.
For managers, battling misinformation means walking a fine line — you must enhance company discourse without overextending. Still, it’s a productive effort that can improve office dynamics, creating a more welcoming environment for employees and fostering better communication between them.
At the end of the day, the most valuable activity is that of education. Nipping fake news in the workplace at the bud by teaching people to recognize and avoid sharing misinformation will allow managers to spend less time fighting fires and more time focusing on value-added activities.
That said, as we move into a post-truth era, divisions in opinions are likely to become more pronounced and increasingly make their way into our work environments. Targeted action is necessary to ensure it doesn’t become a problem in your company.