As a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, I once was investigating a landfill business when I found numerous stories online alleging that it had ties to the mob.
I called a company spokesman, who said the accusations were internet smears that had taken on a life of their own. He also had a smart response beyond mere denial: He referred me to the former head of a New York organized crime task force.
To battle the internet rumors, the company had hired this crimefighter and given him full authority to tear apart its business records, the way prosecutors swoop in on Mafia front companies, looking for illegality. I interviewed the former organized crime cop, and he said his investigation had cleared the company.
He convinced me. My story never mentioned the mob.
The company had taken extraordinary measures to combat persistent fake news. Although that case was unusual, many organizations face a Sisyphean battle to fight off false stories that recirculate online, each feeding the next.
Short of hiring a mob-busting cop or filing a lawsuit, how do you protect yourself against false information and outright smears that can take on a life of their own? Here are a few tips.
1. Build relationships with reporters.