The Weaponization of Misinformation
"The Weaponization of Misinformation and Assault on Truth, Honesty and Fairness: Are You Prepared to Address Disinformation?"
The vast majority of Americans, according to multiple published studies, view disinformation as a serious threat to democracy and our economy. The deliberate manipulation of information and placement of misinformation dramatically decays public trust, pollutes the information environment and undermines the ability of individuals and organizations to engage in civil debate and informed decision-making. This failing trust ecosystem will impact all organizations and create tremendous challenges for public relations professionals who will be called upon to chart a new path forward.
While the spread of propaganda and false information is not new, the access to social media platforms has accelerated the impact to catastrophic levels. Disinformation has been effectively industrialized and is being strategically directed with malintent by bad actors who are far more dangerous than the merely angry or misguided. Communication professionals and those charged with addressing disinformation and its impact must move beyond a simple, figurative game of message checkers … and begin playing chess. The need for a strategic, long-term approach has never been more dire.
To slow the spread of disinformation, public relations professionals – who are uniquely qualified to serve at the tip-of-the-spear in the active information warfare – must shift from defense to offense and spend less time playing figurative Whack-A-Mole by attempting to beat down the endless stream of falsehoods that often leave a mental imprint that’s nearly impossible to reverse. Instead, communicators must tap into the profession’s behavioral science roots and fulfill ethical obligations, serving the public good and helping consumers of news and information make better decisions both online and off. Winning games of the mind can lead to winning the message game and supporting an ethical information environment as directed by the PRSA Code of Ethics.
• Differentiate types of disinformation vs. simply negative content
• Comprehend the root causes and numerous factors that impact the development and proliferation of disinformation
• Develop a deeper understanding of pre-bunking, attitude inoculation and other mitigation strategies
A 30-year industry veteran and the author of three studies on the impact of reputation, Michael Cherenson is Accredited in Public Relations (APR) by the Universal Accreditation Board and Public Relations Society of America and is a member of the organization’s prestigious College of Fellows.
Cherenson’s expertise extends to all disciplines of public relations, including corporate, marketing, internal and crisis communication, government relations, event management and interactive public relations. At SCG, he serves as chief public relations counselor and strategist, and oversees all public relations activities for the firms’ diverse clientele.
In 2009, Cherenson served as Chair and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the world’s largest professional organization for public relations professionals. Prior to that, he served as the society’s Secretary, on its national board of directors, as chair of its Advocacy Advisory Board, and liaison to its Board of Professional Ethics and Standards.
During his tenure on the Board of Directors, Cherenson co-authored a PRSA study on MBA Programs, with emphasis on communication curricula. In 2005, Cherenson represented PRSA on Capitol Hill to address bills aimed at regulating video news releases. That same year, he represented the U.S. State Department and its Bureau of International Information Programs on a mission to Croatia, where he served as a keynote speaker at the 6th Annual Croatian Public Relations Association Conference.
In January 2020, Cherenson was elected to serve a two-year (2020-2022) term as the National Professional Adviser to the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA). The foremost organization for students interested in public relations, PRSSA has nearly 10,000 members on some 375 college and university campuses around the world.
Currently, Cherenson is co-chair of PRSA’s Voices4Everyone Task Force, a member of PRSA’s Educational Affairs Committee and serves as a site team member for the Group’s CEPR Certification program. He also serves on the Accrediting Committee and as a site team member for the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (ACEJMC). Cherenson also serves on the board of directors of One To World, a New York City based non-profit that engages almost 100,000 international students studying in the New York-area (including over 800 Fulbright grantees) through programs that create understanding and build positive relationships between area residents and these unofficial ambassadors from around the world.
In 2018, Cherenson was selected to participate in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference (JCOC), the oldest and most prestigious U.S. Department of Defense public liaison program. Hosted by the Secretary of Defense, the JCOC program is directly linked to the Department of Defense’s new initiative, This Is Your Military. This initiative strives to educate and accurately inform the American public on the military’s relevance and innovativeness. In addition, the program seeks to introduce Americans to those who currently serve, and to dispel common misperceptions about the military.
Cherenson served on the advisory boards at the University of Florida’s Department of Public Relations at UF’s College of Journalism and Communications and on Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Corporate and Organizational Communication Department. He is a past President of the New Jersey Chapter of the PRSA, which honored him with its Service Award in 2002.
A father of three, Cherenson is a graduate of Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY, and attended the prestigious Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) at George Washington University, Washington, DC. He is Secretary of the Boys and Girls Club of Northwest New Jersey.
A leader in strategic communications, issues management, government relations, crisis communications, marketing and brand management, Nance Larsen brings knowledge and proven success to her work in internal/external communications. Larsen builds and executes progressive, multi-layered communication programs with innovative concepts initiated across multiple communication channels. She is a recognized communication leader who infuses teams with vitality and vision.
A recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award for her global work with Special Olympics, a 2013 ATHENA Society member, and 2018 YWCA Woman of Achievement, Larsen believes that giving back to one’s community is critical in fostering a positive future.