Bad PR: Fire Accelerator for Fake News

Strongest fake news during German elections campaign were triggered by poor public relations work

Fake news with a big public impact often base on incorrect or misleading public relations work. This is the result of media analyses carried out by UNICEPTA for the Foundation “Stiftung Neue Verantwortung” as part of a major fake news study on the German parliamentary elections.

Thus, the five fake news with the greatest impact (out of a total of ten cases investigated) were each based on inadequate or misleading public relations work. These included, for example, a tweet by Hamburg police during the G20 protests that a police officer had suffered an eye injury as a result of a firecracker throw, as well as a press conference by the Bavarian Ministry of the Interior on allegedly dramatically increased numbers of rapes.

There is a pattern in the creation of Fake News: First, false or misleading information is disseminated by public authorities. This information is then sharpened into fake news by politicians or the media - with reference to the supposedly serious source of the information. 

The problem: Once wide-reaching multipliers have brought fake news into the world, it is difficult to erase it again by correcting it. The career of the wrong narrative usually has already too much  advanced.

The good news: Responsible and fast PR can help to contain fake news. Thus, the Interior Ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia managed to catch the false news that there was a decree to the police instructing them to prosecute crimes committed by migrants to a lesser extent. After it was informed by individual social media users of the according circulating document, the ministry vigorously denied it on the same day - even before influential multipliers took up the report in order to boost their own political agenda.

Our impulse "Bad PR: the Fire Accelerant for Fake News" is available for download at the very bottom of this page. It also provides information on how communicators can deal with the phenomenon of fake news:

1 - Be accurate 

Certain influencers just wait for misleading information that confirm their agenda;
be unequivocal.

2- Listen carefully

A lot of social media users usually sense Fake News and ask authorities for the correct information.

3 – Be fast

If you want to contain Fake News, you should reply at least within the same day.

4 - Go in big

Let important representatives do the debunking (depends on potential damage of Fake News).
The complete study report of the “Stiftung Neue Verantwortung” on the impact of fake news in the context of the 2017 federal elections can be found here: https://www.stiftung-nv.de/en/node/2205


UNICEPTA Medienanalyse GmbH is a leading global provider for smart media intelligence in innovations/digital consulting, media monitoring, media analysis and research/consulting. Around 700 experts continuously structure the news flow – both around the clock and around the world.  UNICEPTA compiles and presents highly relevant information from print and online media, TV, radio and social-media sources. This day-to-day work serves as a platform for the company to provide analysis and research-based advice for issues related to strategic communication.


Wolf-Dieter Rühl
UNICEPTA Medienanalyse GmbH
Head of Research Services
Salierring 47-53
50677 Köln

phone  0221 9902 110
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email    wolf.ruehl@unicepta.com
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