Fake news: keep an eye out for traps!

What better way to teach about crisis management and contending with fake news than to have to deal with it in the real world? This was exactly the experience that HEC professors and their students had to live through, although they weren’t exactly willing participants.

The tactic of spreading fake news to hush up an affair, restore your image or bury a troublesome competitor has been around for a while. But the advent of digital technology has totally transformed fake news in terms of its possible forms and the speed with which it circulates. That’s why Ludovic François and Dominique Rouziès, two professors at HEC Paris, designed a seminar to help prepare students to handle the crisis situations of their future clients.

The seminar initially revolved around a fictitious pharmaceutical company that was marketing an anti-obesity drug. The students were divided into two teams: the first had to manufacture a crisis situation, and the second had to manage it for the company. This exercise continued for nine years, the only difference being the crisis itself, which changed with each new class of students. But details ended up leaking into the public realm and soon, the “real” press was reporting on the story and some “competitors” were filing complaints against this totally made-up company and its unauthorized commercialization of drugs.

Once this case study strayed into the outside world, the fictitious and real battles against fake news became mixed up. Our conclusion? Reputation and crisis management are subjects that require great expertise, especially in the 21st century.

 

Find out more:

Managing Fake News” by Dominique Rouziès and Ludovic François (Knowledge@HEC, January 2019)