Misinformation and Money: Debunking Myths in the Currency World

The growth of the internet and social media has been accompanied by a growth in fake news and a fall in traditional, fact-checked journalism. Articles and claims can be circulated freely without appropriate governance. Fake news on a range of issues has incited violence and hate while changing behaviours and influencing politics. It can also damage reputations and lead to unfair advantages.

The currency industry has not been exempt from fake news, regularly seeing articles focused on the decline of cash and the false narrative of banknotes spreading COVID.

The recent pandemic saw banknotes unfairly attacked, with multiple articles wrongly claiming that banknotes were helping to spread coronavirus. The articles continued long after the science proved that COVID was spread by respiratory droplets and not touch. Even today, some UK retailers continue to claim that they only take digital payments to protect their consumers. They do this without protecting consumers, while being subjected to increasing card interchange fees and while excluding certain demographics from their shops.

The decline of cash in the face of growing digital payments has been a narrative that has spanned multiple decades. Large international companies with collective multi-million-pound marketing budgets propagate this narrative, helping to position digital as the future.

The reality is that ‘global’ reports aren’t really truly global – only about 40 countries publish cash transactions versus digital transactions. Cash is still number one at the point of sale in many countries, and there is a long way to go before the global digital infrastructure would allow full digital financial inclusion. 80% of adults in emerging markets outside of China are yet to make a digital payment, and cash is still the most inclusive method of payment available.

But fake news is damaging. Brandolini’s Law posits that a disproportionate amount of effort is required to debunk false or misleading statements compared to the ease with which they can be created and spread.

Anybody working to explain why banknotes are safe to use during COVID will have felt this firsthand. Anybody working to explain why cash plays an essential, positive role in the overall payments landscape will have also felt this firsthand, given the well-funded, digitally motivated, and anti-cash marketing out there.

Talking of which, an interesting workshop at the Future of Cash conference in Istanbul last month, led by the author and cash advocate Brett Scott, looked at changing the narrative of cash. In it, he explained how the digital leaders have created and driven the story that digital is good and analogue is bad, particularly in the context of cash. He challenged the audience to think about regaining control and changing the conversation.

The conference room split into working groups to see if they could devise a billboard, social media campaign or guerilla marketing campaign to present cash as a positive choice without falling back into a defensive crouch shaped by the war on cash, and the fake news that so often supports it.

It was a fascinating exercise which revealed real creativity, ranging from Banksy style artwork with cash presented in the image and a Tik Tok series of clips showing cash being used in situations where only cash works well. Potential slogans such as ‘Cash: more than a beer token’ and an image of Visa’s annual profit and the line, ‘nothing is for free’ do not make the public space! They should.

But fake news doesn’t just target the industry; companies within the currency sector experience it firsthand. Damaging stories that are incorrect (and often old fake news) tend to coincide with major tenders and positive trading announcements.

The past few years have seen the currency industry become more competitive, and this has coincided with an increase in bad behaviours linked to propagating misleading and damaging articles.

When encountering a negative article about an entity, consider who might benefit from such negativity. Does it align with the success of a competitor? Is it linked to an ongoing tender? Is it plausible for a publicly listed company, which is obligated to report significant operational changes? Observe which companies frequently engage in discrediting others or criticising their performance.

There is enough fake news out there attacking cash without this happening within the industry as well. We have a collective interest to work together to make the case for cash, as opposed to using misinformation to score points off one another.

On that note, Currency News™ would like to wish our readers a happy and fake-free festive season.