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Americans Say ‘Fake News’ a Bigger Problem than Climate Change, Racism


- June 6th, 2019
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A new survey from Pew Research finds that fake news is a bigger concern than racism and climate change. Half (50 percent) say that  “made-up news/info” is a “very big problem in the country today.”

In fact, Americans think “made-up news/info” is a bigger problem than: violent crime, climate change, racism, illegal immigration, terrorism or sexism.

Indeed, more Americans view made-up news as a very big problem for the country than identify terrorism, illegal immigration, racism and sexism that way. Additionally, nearly seven-in-ten U.S. adults (68%) say made-up news and information greatly impacts Americans’ confidence in government institutions, and roughly half (54%) say it is having a major impact on our confidence in each other.

U.S. adults blame political leaders and activists far more than journalists for the creation of made-up news intended to mislead the public. But they believe it is primarily the responsibility of journalists to fix the problem. And they think the issue will get worse in the foreseeable future.

Yes, it will get worse if people think the journalists will fix the problem since they willingly disseminate disinformation useful to their political causes. Eight in 10 say that steps should be taken to “restrict” the fake news, while only 20 percent say it is protected communication. It’s important to note when looking at these numbers, we don’t know exactly what people think is “fake news.” Respondents could be referring to ads on Facebook telling you “this one thing will help you lose belly fat” appearing in the form of a news story. Or they could be referring to the stories presented by the media so often needing correction or retraction. Or perhaps people mean Twitter or the click bait headlines they see on other social media outlets.

Another notable finding in the survey are the partisan differences.

Similar to Americans’ news attitudes generally, stark partisan differences exist when it comes to made-up news and information, particularly in the area of assessing blame. Differences also emerge based on political awareness and age. In general, Republicans, the highly politically aware and older Americans express higher levels of concern about the impact of made-up news than their counterparts.

The survey reveals that two groups are most responsible for fake news: political leaders (57 percent) and activist groups (53 percent). Only 36 percent put the blame on journalists, a number only slightly above those who blame foreign actors (35 percent.)

Republicans are more likely to place the blame on journalists than non-Republicans are.

A solid majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (62%) say made-up news is a very big problem in the country today, compared with fewer than half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (40%). Republicans also register greater exposure to made-up news. About half of Republicans (49%) say they come across it often, 19 percentage points higher than Democrats (30%).

One of the starkest differences, though, is in assigning blame for creating made-up news and information. Republicans are nearly three times as likely as Democrats to say journalists create a lot of it (58% vs. 20%).

Republicans also place more blame on activist groups, with about three-quarters (73%) saying these groups create a lot, close to twice the rate of Democrats (38%). Political leaders and their staff, though, rank high for both sides of the aisle – half or more of each party say they create a lot. And while members of both parties say the news media bear the primary responsibility for fixing the situation, that feeling is considerably more pervasive among Republicans (69%) than Democrats (42%).

Interesting study. Here’s a link to the toplines if you want to read them.

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