New findings underscore what you already know. People don’t trust traditional media as they once did. They trust social media even less. And certain groups in particular, including Republicans and people with a high school education or less, are the most suspicious that what they read isn’t accurate.
The Gallup/Knight Foundation breaks it down in a fresh survey of 1,440 Americans recruited randomly to assess how pervasive U.S. adults believe misinformation is, and how responsible major internet companies are for preventing its dissemination.
The findings aren’t pretty. Overall, Americans think that 39 percent of the news they see on TV or hear on the radio or read in newspapers is deliberately intended to deceive. U.S. adults think it’s even worse when it comes to news they’ve discovered via social media; according to this same survey, participants said that fully two-thirds of the news they discover through social media is misinformation in some form.
Political leanings have an impact on perceptions, as you might imagine. Fully 51 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of self-described conservatives are more likely to perceive misinformation when it comes to legacy media, compared with just 23 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of liberals.
Exposure also plays a role. Americans who say they pay a “great deal” of attention to traditional news say 37 percent of it is in misinformation, compared with those who pay little or no attention to national news and consider that 53 percent of it is intentionally misleading.
Education is another factor when it comes to perceptions about how effective, or not, the news is. To wit, people with postgraduate degrees estimate that 29 percent of traditional media (meaning TV, radio and newspapers) is misinformation; people with a college degree say 35 percent is misinformation; and people with a high school education or less say upwards of 43 percent of traditional media stories are intentionally wrong on some level.
If you’re a reporter feeling lousy about these findings, take heart; social media companies have it far worse.
For reasons obvious to anyone who followed the story of Facebook’s involvement in election meddling in 2015 and 2016, the number of people who trust social media to find reliable accurate information is . . . not high! In fact, 65 percent of U.S. adults take whatever they read on social media with a grain of salt.
So what to do with this new world, where so many suspect they are reading “fake news?” Social media is easier to tackle than traditional news, suggest survey recipients, 76 percent of whom said they think internet companies have an obligation to alert users when they’re positive that a story on their site or platform or app is misinformation.
Indeed, a slim majority of respondents said that identifying misinformation is one of social media companies’ important responsibilities. They might have had in mind Facebook’s January decision to prioritize “trustworthy” news in its feed of social media posts, using member surveys to identify high-quality outlets and fight sensationalism and misinformation. They might have been encouraged by that development, too. According to the survey, 70 percent or more of respondents said that methods to counteract the spread of misinformation, including giving greater prominence to stories from reputable news sources, could be at least “somewhat effective.”
If you’re interested in learning more, you can find the study on misinformation here, and the survey on bias in media and social networks here.