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  • Writer's pictureStavros Papagianneas

Reputation Management in the Age of AI Misinformation

Trust matters and rules brand image. When you trust someone, you give them the benefit of the doubt. And if this person gets in trouble, you will hear their side of the story before making conclusions.

Organisations seek to build the same benefit of the doubt among their stakeholders. Without a strong reputation, brands risk not having a receptive audience for their story when they need one the most.

The imperative to build a solid reputation to benefit from the doubt is paramount in high-risk sectors. However, every company has risks and can obtain a competitive advantage by building a reputation they can draw on in times of crisis.

Building a strong and positive reputation requires strategic efforts, consistent actions, and effective communication. It takes time. Nevertheless, it can be easily damaged. Consistency, authenticity, and a genuine commitment to delivering value are crucial to building a strong and lasting reputation.

AI can offer numerous benefits for improving brands and client experiences, optimising operations, and enhancing communication. However, like any tool or technology, AI can pose risks if not used responsibly or if its capabilities are exploited in negative ways.

AI-generated misinformation/disinformation could significantly threaten reputation management in today's digital age. With the advancements in AI and natural language processing, it has become increasingly easy to create content that appears legitimate and real but is false or misleading.

That viral image of the pope in a puffy coat? The "photo" of former President Donald Trump being arrested? The "video clip" of President Joe Biden rapping? Or Jordan Peele who uses deepfake technology to simulate a speech by Barack Obama as an ironic warning against the rise of deepfakes.

Those were all deepfakes — computer-generated media of realistic yet entirely fabricated content. And those deepfakes fooled many of us. AI does an incredible job of creating counterfeit content that looks like the real deal. And it's only getting better.

This can seriously affect individuals, organisations, and even entire industries. Here's how AI misinformation can impact reputation management:

Spread of False Information: AI-generated content can mimic human writing styles and produce seemingly credible articles, news stories, reviews, and social media posts. This content can spread rapidly online, potentially damaging the reputation of individuals, businesses, or public figures by disseminating false or damaging information.

Difficulty in Detection: AI-generated misinformation can be challenging to identify, significantly, as the technology improves. Traditional methods of detecting misinformation, such as fact-checking, might be less effective against well-crafted AI-generated content. This makes it easier for false information to circulate and tarnish a reputation before corrective action can be taken.

Damage to Trust and Credibility: Once false information gains traction, it can erode trust and credibility in the eyes of the public. This can harm relationships with customers, partners, investors, and the general public, damaging a person's or organisation's reputation.

Virality and Amplification: Misinformation, especially sensational or scandalous content, spreads more quickly and widely than accurate information. AI-generated content can tap into this virality, amplifying the potential damage to a reputation.

Legal and Ethical Challenges: Addressing AI-generated misinformation requires careful consideration of legal and ethical implications. Depending on the jurisdiction, defamation, libel, and intellectual property laws need to be navigated to address false content and restore a reputation.

Resource Intensity: Managing and mitigating the effects of AI-generated misinformation can demand significant time, effort, and resources. Responding effectively might involve legal action, public relations efforts, online content takedowns, and corrective messaging.

AI-generated misinformation can be a serious threat to reputation management. By staying vigilant, having a well-prepared response plan, and fostering open and trustworthy communication, individuals and organisations can better navigate the challenges created by AI-generated falsehoods.

AI truly transforms the communications landscape, just like social media started changing the profession in the early 2000s. Today, being able to have an intelligent conversation about social media's role in a communication strategy is part of being a professional communicator. AI is following the same track.

By understanding AI's strengths, its potential and its numerous limitations, we can then bring our very human communications expertise and judgment to bear on the issue of AI-generated misinformation.

One of the most valuable things communication leaders bring is a strategic mindset. That frequently means asking difficult questions and thinking about what nobody else considers.

Some questions worth asking are:

  • How effective is your organisation at monitoring its reputation and spotting misinformation/disinformation?

  • Do staff and key stakeholders know how to recognise misinformation, AI or otherwise, and discern between fact and fake?

  • How are other functions and disciplines in your organisation thinking about AI? Your IT, sales or legal colleagues may have very different and valuable perspectives on the technology. It is worth taking time to understand them.

Furthermore, proactive monitoring, quick response and transparency are needed. Building a reputation for transparency and honesty in your communication can help establish credibility that can be leveraged during a misinformation/disinformation challenge

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