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In 2019, are viral publicity stunts fake news?

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Fake news is not a new concept and, contrary to popular belief, certainly not one that was coined around the most recent US Presidential election.

In fact, the proliferation of false information through media outlets is a time-honoured practice stretching back into ancient history. One of its earliest recorded uses was as a political tool in the first century by Augustus, the first Roman emperor, who slandered his political opposition in a brutal whisper campaign – a vicious manoeuvre that proved deadly.

Similarly, viral PR stunts – and more specifically the method of ‘seeding’ a story in a non-transparent way so that its association with your brand or company appears purely organic, is a very old concept. Granted, we are talking about mere decades rather than the century-spanning epic history of fake news.

In the early days of popular internet culture, a PR stunt was crucial if you wanted to spark a piece of viral media. Whether it was the chain-mail propelled Ecko Air Force One campaign in 2006 – which, if released these days could be considered the epitome of fake news, or the thousands of brand-sponsored fake videos that have emerged in the years since.

There’s no denying that manufacturing intrigue works in building curiosity. Why else would the same techniques used by Nike to create fake paparazzi footage of NBA superstar Kevin Durant in 2010 still be utilised in publicity stunts involving celebrity body doubles........

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