What can we learn from Macmillan’s fake news hire?

Macmillan Fake News Nurse

A key challenge facing the charity world as we head towards 2018 is how to communicate your message in the midst of all of the information that is shared through digital media. When it is so easy for someone to share spurious and unverified claims to hundreds, sometimes thousands of people, in their social network bubble it is easy to see how quickly misinformation and ‘fake news’ can spread.

Macmillan Cancer Support, being aware that cancer patients are often left to turn to the internet for information about their conditions, have appointed a Digital Nurse Specialist to offer support to those looking for it online. Macmillan have taken this measure as they are concerned that those who have been diagnosed with cancer may end up on unverified internet sites, leaving them searching for bogus cures or needlessly frightened about their prognosis.

Professor Jane Maher, Joint Chief Medical Officer at Macmillan Cancer Support, says:

“It’s completely natural for people to want to Google their diagnosis when they’re told they have cancer. But with countless unverified statistics, fake news and horror stories on the internet, ending up on the wrong website can be really worrying. This can leave people pinning their hopes on a dangerous bogus cure or underestimating the benefit of routine treatments.

“When someone learns they have cancer, it’s really important that healthcare professionals fully explain what their diagnosis means and the support available to them. They should also be able signpost their patients to trusted sources online so they aren’t left open to incorrect or misleading information.”

In taking this step, Macmillan are trying to ensure that they provide a trusted outlet for online questions from those who have been diagnosed with cancer. While it may not stop the spread of misinformation in other quarters, providing a place where people who have questions can receive authoritative, compassionate and factual answers goes a long way to making sure that those who are looking end up receiving their information from a reliable source.

So what learnings can you take from this appointment by Macmillan?

We asked Matt Collins from Platypus Digital to give us his top three predictions:

1. Information will be easier to understand

Of people who looked up information about their diagnosis online, 1 in 8 (13%) said they did because they didn’t fully understand what they had been told about their cancer.

Research has also shown that one in three people (34%) say they were in a daze and couldn’t take anything in when they were diagnosed[iii].  

One of the reasons fake news as a whole thrives is because it promotes a nice simple story. To combat this, charities will present much cleaner and easier to understand versions of their most crucial information.

If they don’t, stories like baking soda can cure cancer will continue to gain traction while information on real treatments falls by the wayside.

2. Digital-first service delivery

If you put your charity’s cause on Google Trends, you’ll get an idea for how many people search for it on Google, and whether that number is increasing or decreasing.

As internet use worldwide continues to mushroom, the people doing these searches will become your first and biggest group of service users.

Charity boards will come to understand this. In line with their charitable objectives, they will then make similar strategic decisions to invest in ensuring that accurate, helpful information reaches them.

3. People behind the posts

Note that Macmillan aren’t content to just create accurate treatment-related content, or even myth-busting posts. They’ve put an actual person who will answer questions from people affected by cancer online, on Macmillan’s social media platforms and the charity’s online community.

As vital as that accurate static content is, users expect more. They will want to connect with a real human who can answer their literally life and death questions quickly.

Profit-driven companies already invest heavily in online customer service. Knowing that they can often save the very lives of their customers, charities have already started to follow their lead. This investment is going to increase hugely.

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