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One simple, ancient rule smart leaders use to master misinformation

Who doesn’t want to impress the boss and share the latest news about rival competitors or emerging customers? In the battle against misinformation and fake news, most people tend to blame media and manipulators, scammers and screens.

But a more subtle risk pervades every office, canteen and workplace. The human impulse to share information.

As a leader, protecting brand integrity is about promoting sense-checking and curbing the impulse to share unsubstantiated information with a given network. Ancient wisdom can help employees with a simple technique and six words.

Modern Misinformation

Fake news and misinformation have all the X factors: Ewe, surprise, salience, utility and novelty. It’s not necessarily kind or useful.

Many of your employees, customers and investors have been exposed to misinformation. MIT estimates false stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted.

Vulnerability to disinformation costs. The University of Baltimore and cybersecurity firm CHEQ estimate global damage at $78 billion, with significantly more hidden losses.

The Global Disinformation Index estimates businesses redirect $235 million of annual advertising budgets to websites that peddle misinformation. That’s a lot of waste for a growing business with scarce resources.

Now, leaders can adopt the Triple Filter Test attributed to the Greek philosopher Socrates over 2,500 years ago.

A Triple Filter Test And Golden Rule

The story goes that one day, a disciple ran up to Socrates saying he had just met a friend and had news. Because people often present opinions as facts, Socrates decreed the message had to pass a triple filter test before listening.

If it failed, the rule was the message could not be shared.

So what’s the test? He asked, “Is it true, kind or useful?”

These simple 1-minute questions can prompt a pause long enough to help discern the value of information shared and limit the spread of fake news. Let’s explore each more closely.

Is it true? Evaluate the credibility of the information. Is it opinion, assertion, inference, assumption or fact? If the source is reliable, it’s less likely to be hearsay and should be considered.
Is it kind? Evaluate whether the information is constructive to the business, harmful to others or advantageous to the spreader. What is the true intention behind information sharing?
Is it useful? Evaluate the value the information provides. If there’s no commercial or strategic benefit from its dissemination, it’s more likely to be speculative and should be contained.
Anyone can use this simple check for truth, kindness and utility.

A culture of fact-checking may feel counter to the fast-paced agile style that typifies entrepreneurs but it’s essential to safeguard longevity and prevent reputation damage.

For instance, Fox News faces a legal challenge by Dominion Voting systems for not maintaining professional integrity during the 2020 Presidential election.

Oliver Wyman tells us those with the greatest humility about misinformation are the least disinformed. Smart leaders appreciate how biases contribute. For example, confirmation bias suggests employees are more likely to confirm data that aligns with existing perspectives.

The mere exposure effect makes decision-makers more prone to like whatever they repeatedly hear, regardless of source, veracity or logic. And the illusory truth effect makes people more likely to believe repeated gossip or news.

Building Safeguards

When 85 percent of consumers are willing to terminate your product or brand if they just see it alongside false, misleading or inflammatory material, you know it’s time to act.

Unfortunately, you can’t rely on platforms like Meta to solve the problem. They blame the users. “Individual humans are the ones who choose to believe or not believe a thing…. They are the ones who choose to share or not share.”

When consulting with organizations, I see how much value leaders derive by rigorously questioning and examining assumptions. It’s a habit worth honing.

Additional considerations minimize misinformation risk among colleagues:

When you foster a culture of accountability, employees are less likely to share misinformation.
When you nurture a culture of trust, employees are less likely to rely on conjecture or deduction.
When you provide access to plans, employees are less likely to speculate about scenarios.
When you promote early conflict resolution, employees are less likely to slander to get ahead.
When you role model open communication, employees are less likely to gossip. Employees who experience less gossip are more satisfied, stay longer and are less likely to fuel the Great Resignation.
This science-based perspective is true and intended as kind and useful. If businesses endorse information accuracy and allow employees time to ‘think before you share,’ checking becomes normalized, misinformation decreases and everyone wins.

It’s a simple formula to improve the bottom line and safeguard reputation.

Moreover, it fulfills a professional obligation to customers, employees and investors.

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