How the Media is Using Encryption to Build Trust in the Post-Truth Era

Mar 23, 2017 Juli Young

The PR and media landscape is experiencing a dramatic shift as we enter the “post-truth era.” Today’s consumers have become increasingly more skeptical about the information they read and which outlets they view as a credible source. As my colleagues emphasized in a blog post on What the Trump Election Means for Public Relations, trust is a key factor influencing this change.

Meanwhile, investigative journalism is starting to make a comeback as reporters are becoming much more intentional in soliciting leaks and employing new technology to make that process more protected and seamless.

Last week, VentureBeat released a list of options for sources to contact its editorial team with sensitive information. Other outlets such as Buzzfeed and The New York Times have recently launched dedicated web pages that break down the various ways individuals can leak stories to them. The Washington Post features seven different ways (including snail mail) for sending information to Post journalists. We’ve outlined some of the most popular encryption tools reporters are using below.

Encryption tools

Aside from encrypted email, there are a number of tools that media organizations are using to bypass surveillance, securely accept documents and communicate with their sources. Here are a few examples:

  • Peerio: An end-to-end encrypted messaging app, which allows you to communicate directly with journalists. It allows users to transfer files up to 400 megabytes.
  • Pidgin: A secure desktop messaging app used for its Off-the-Record Messaging (OTR) plugin, which offers end-to-end encryption.
  • SecureDrop: An-open source system created by the Freedom of the Press Foundation that allows newsrooms to accept anonymous tips and interact with sources without revealing their identity.
  • Signal: An encrypted instant-messaging and phone-call tool. The app works by using end-to-end encryption to secure all communications between app users, so journalists can safely send and receive calls, text messages, videos and images. Many journalists (not just cybersecurity reporters) list their Signal number directly on their Twitter profile or they will encourage users to DM them for it.

What do all of these tools have in common that makes them so secure? End-to-end encryption, or a system where only the communicating users can view the conversation. According to a WIRED article, there are still a number of journalists who don’t use this technology yet for variety of reasons. However, we expect to see more of these tools become a newsroom standard.

While using encrypted communications is a step in the right direction to create a more secure environment for journalists, their sources and the entire news organization, unfortunately encryption isn’t foolproof. Take the recent WikiLeaks CIA breach, which demonstrated that if the CIA owns a device, it can even bypass encryption to view messages.

What does this mean for for the PR world?

With anonymous tips increasingly becoming the newsroom norm, it’s even more crucial for PR and communications professionals to review and update their crisis communication and social media escalation strategies on a regular basis. What would you do if you were caught in the middle of an information leak or breach? Since businesses are the new battleground states, transparency takes center-stage and credibility and accuracy are a brand’s currency. Having a comprehensive plan of action ready is key to making sure your bases are covered so you can be ready to respond to any situation.

Topics: Media Relations, Public Relations, cybersecurity
Juli Young

Juli’s responsible for media outreach, drafting bylines and blog posts, executing social media campaigns, and staying ahead of industry trends. Before joining InkHouse in January 2015, Juli found her true passion for public relations during her time as a general manager of Tehama Group Communications, Chico State’s student-run PR firm. In her spare time, you can find her at Zumba class, trivia night, or exploring all that San Francisco has to offer!

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