Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in 2023, misinformation and disinformation has increased rapidly across major social platforms. Sadly, opportunism often follows tragedy, and bad actors are eager to distort the public’s view of what’s really happening. This creates great challenges for not only media consumers, but media-oriented professionals in PR and reputation management. The latter need to remain vigilant to verify the information they amplify—and protect clients from impersonation and misattribution in a world of deepfakes and instant virality.
When a trending news story is continually being updated and expanded, even trusted media outlets can repeat bad information before properly vetting it. And the tragedy in the Middle East has only called attention to the vulnerabilities of social media platforms. They are easily exploited by those who profit or gain influence by spreading misinformation.
How can we break this toxic cycle of distrust and degradation of credibility on social networks? Profile verification is an inevitable solution. It is a path which regulators chart as they seek to restore trust in the platforms used by billions for information. We’ve known the risks of anonymity for years, but the harm caused by fake profiles, not just in terms of misinformation but also cyberbullying, means social networks are nearing a day of reckoning—a day where all profiles will need to be fully verified.
Are the social networks too far gone?
Currently there is little incentive for social media companies to require full verification of profiles. Retrofitting Meta, X (formerly known as Twitter) or TikTok is an immensely costly exercise, and one which users are unlikely to want to pay for. So it’s unlikely that social platforms will institute more robust know-your-customer (KYC) verification systems of their own free will.
In my view, things won’t change until regulators step in and make profile verification mandatory. This will help root out misinformation and deceptive content and begin to restore trust and credibility, which is currently eroding rapidly. But government bodies move slowly. Social platforms are rife with fake and questionable profiles engineered to create and spread misinformation, and reputation gatekeepers need solutions for vetting information now.
Our current “disinformation conversation” has highlighted the need to address the problem posed by social sharing by anonymous and unreliable actors. Future social networks must be engineered to require effective profile verification. This will require a change in revenue models to fix the current misalignment between information integrity and advertising revenues. Meanwhile, social media users want an experience free from misinformation, propaganda, bots and counterfeit accounts. The media platform of the future will be one that offers, as a core value proposition, an authenticated user base.
Users fleeing white noise and bad information
Social platforms have made the mistake of assuming they will always have a captive audience. But it turns out people don’t like to stick around in environments where they’ll be misled. In 2022, Meta started feeling the pinch from Facebook’s losses in ad revenue and in user engagement. In late 2023 Axios reported that X (formerly known as Twitter) lost 17.8% of its monthly active U.S. users since September 2022.
And yet, users’ hunger for fresh and reliable information hasn’t gone away.
This disconnect opens the door to new forms of social media. The content, as always, will be generated by users, including PR professionals and the organizations or brands they represent. Authentic, engaging voices are at the core of social media’s appeal. But these new platforms must be engineered on a stronger foundation where profile verification is a core feature.
In this landscape, verified profiles that create reliable information can coexist with traditional media sources. Not only will this create a cleaner and more deeply engaging experience for users, it will reduce the time and energy PR and comms teams spend keeping their clients and businesses safe from impersonation and attacks by anonymous trolls.
The Responsibility of PR Professionals
As they explore emerging media platforms where profile verification is baked in from the beginning, PR teams need to focus on platforms where their audiences are most engaged and their messages can travel the farthest and most clearly.
To combat misinformation and uphold the reputation of their clients, PR pros need to not only be present on an inherently verified platform, but to make that verified platform their primary point of truth.
Users have never been as alert to the reality and threat of misinformation and fraudulent social profiles than they are today. There is a hunger throughout and beyond the media industry for a consistently reliable source of truth—which is how PR teams should position their clients’ profiles on a fully-verified platform. They’ll need to communicate this certification to their audiences across all social platforms: If they’ve said something on a verified platform or their owned and operated sites, it’s real and reliable. Getting this message out clearly will reduce the time spent and stress felt by communicators, enabling them to get ahead of the destructive messages spread by trolls, bots and other bad actors.
What the media landscape deserves is efficient and trustworthy sources of information—where the platform itself, rather than individual users, takes responsibility for verifying who’s sharing the information.
James Mawhinney is founder and CEO of Media.com