“Fake news” has become a ubiquitous, tiresome refrain over the last year, with reports of actual falsified stories appearing all over social media, and the president blaming any unflattering coverage on the phenomenon.
Two new studies recently released by the Poynter Institute and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism show some shifting attitudes from readers in the year following the election.
On Monday, the Poynter Institute released the results of its 2017 Media Trust Survey. The Institute reports confidence in the media is at its highest levels, numbers not seen since the terrorist attacks in 2001. This claim is due to increased support from those who identify as left-leaning.
Support for the press was low among those who identify as right-wing.
The results, based on a survey sent to 2,100 participants who also agreed to have their news consumption tracked for a month, show a country deeply divided politically. That's especially true when it comes to news intake.
An astonishing 44% of those surveyed believe the media makes up stories about the president and his dealings. Most troubling, 25% support limitations on press freedom. And while 69% of those surveyed believe the media shows political favoritism, they also believe that news outlets “keep political leaders from doing things that shouldn’t be done.”
The study found that news consumers read widely across outlets, suggesting the feared information bubble may be exaggerated. However, the study’s authors, Andrew Guess, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College and Jason Reifler of University of Exeter, all believe these numbers show that outlets do need to strive to become or remain neutral in their coverage to heal the current divide in political support.
A study by Reuters digs deeper into the psychology of distrust. Polling 18,000 people across nine countries, including the U.S., Reuters asked open-ended questions of its participants, offering them space to explain their approach to media.
One question, “Why don’t people trust the news?” was met with 67% of respondents citing concerns about hidden agendas and political bias. In the U.S., the results were particularly significant — 34% of respondents registering a deep wariness of news media.
Most interesting, the study found people are more willing to trust news presented as a video rather than text, which they felt could be more easily manipulated. Respondents also downplayed the significance of social media to their news consumption.
Some 24% reported that platforms like Twitter and Facebook do “a good job helping them separate fact from fiction,” a surprising finding considering the attention social platforms got following reports of fake stories flooding news feeds in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election.
Ultimately, study leads Nic Newman, a journalist and digital strategist, and Dr. Richard Fletcher, a research fellow, put the onus on media outlets, social media and readers to work together to create a journalistic environment that is trustworthy.
With Facebook and other platforms working to out fake news sources, and news outlets ramping up fact-checking efforts, the future of news coverage shows signs of improving its image with the public.
And hopefully, lessening the divide in the process.