Blog banner tips to protect against narrative-borne threats

In our recent Town Hall event, Protecting Your Business from Disinformation and Other Narrative-Borne Threats, our panelists were sure of one thing: While 2020 may have been a high-water mark for mis- and disinformation, it certainly wasn’t the end. False and misleading narratives – many of which can pose direct and indirect threats to businesses – aren’t going away anytime soon. 

The question, then, becomes: How can businesses deal with the continued presence of mis- and disinformation narratives in our discourse? 

Here are four key things for businesses to keep in mind as they navigate the narrative threat landscape going forward.

Download our free new guide to learn how to build a protocol to get ahead of disinformation and other narrative-borne threats.

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1. Narrative-Borne Threats Aren’t Confined to the Internet

The internet can do a lot to amplify a damaging narrative or a piece of disinformation. But it’s not the only place where these things exist. Mis- and disinformation narratives can spill over from the online world to the physical one – with real consequences. 

One notable example of this is the conspiracy theory that 5G technology causes COVID-19. After first emerging online early in the pandemic, it only took a couple of months before this narrative jumped from the screen to the real world, with arsonists setting fire to dozens of 5G cell towers in the UK last spring.

 

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2. A minor narrative today can be a major narrative tomorrow

The 5G narrative is a great example not just of the potential real-world effects of online narratives, but also of the way even narratives that initially seem innocuous or insignificant can quickly grow into something that demands real attention. 

When Zignal started tracking this narrative early in 2020, we saw a small amount of social media chatter tying 5G technology to topics like Wuhan and the coronavirus. At the time, it didn’t look like something that would break out into something big. 

All it takes is one viral video or tweet, or one particularly devoted adherent to a conspiracy theory, for a previously small narrative to become a real risk to people’s lives, livelihoods, and businesses.”

Fast-forward to the spring, and we were helping news outlets understand why cell towers in the UK were being burned, why workers associated with 5G technology were being harrassed, and where the story originated. We were able to provide media intelligence from the Zignal platform to help tell the story, but the lesson was clear: It doesn’t take much for a minor narrative to become a major one. All it takes is one viral video or tweet, or one particularly devoted adherent to a conspiracy theory, for a previously small narrative to become a real risk to people’s lives, livelihoods, and businesses.

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3. Mis- and Disinformation Narratives Can Pull Together Seemingly Disparate Topics

It’s easy to view topics like 5G technology and COVID-19 as completely separate. But the story we’ve discussed here shows how topics one might never expect to overlap can be united under the banner of a particular online narrative.

By showing you how topics can merge over time as narratives evolve, the vigilant use of media intelligence can help you stay on top of threats you might not expect to face – which brings us to our last point:

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4. Staying on Top of These Threats Requires Broad Monitoring

You never know what narrative your business might be pulled into. When developing a response protocol for narrative-borne threats, it’s important to identify the narratives and issues relevant to your businesses. But on top of that, businesses need to train their monitoring eye even on big current stories and broader topics that, at first glance, don’t seem directly relevant. This is key to maintaining the broad narrative awareness necessary to identify when your business has been drawn into new, unexpected narratives, so you can quickly respond. 

 

Watch the recording of the Town Hall for more insights into how to protect your business from disinformation and other narrative-borne threats.