How widespread is fake news? Finally, real numbers.
Nearly a quarter of Americans have shared fake news
December 16, 2016
The problem of fake news has been made worse by people sharing and believing outrageous stories they see on social media sites, without fact-checking or questioning the information.
Since fake news is a relatively recent occurrence, only really gaining attention in the months leading up to and since the election, it’s been difficult to figure out how widespread it is or if people are even aware of the problem.
A new study from Pew Research Center aims to put the scope and sentiments toward fake news into perspective.
Its findings are fascinating. Most of America is aware of the fake news phenomenon. Yet a small sliver is actually willingly participating in the dissemination of false stories.
The report also finds that attitudes toward false news may vary depending on political affiliation, race and income level.
But the majority of people agree it’s a problem.
“Americans suspect that made-up news is having an impact. About two-in-three U.S. adults (64 percent) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events,” notes Pew.
Nearly a quarter of Americans, 23 percent, say they have shared a fake news story.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Sixteen percent say that when they shared it, they were unaware it was false.
But 14 percent said they knew it was untrue—and shared it anyway.
Why do so? Pew didn’t ask respondents for their motivation, but it seems likely they did it either a) because they thought it was amusing or b) to further a political point, since so much of fake news is tied to politics.
That suggests that eradicating the problem of fake news could be even more difficult than expected. While that’s a small percentage spreading false information, it certainly makes a crackdown even harder.
Identifying fake news
The study found that most people are either very confident (39 percent) or somewhat confident (45 percent) in their ability to suss out fake news.
And while people of all political parties believe fake news causes confusion, Democrats (64 percent) and Independents (69 percent) are more likely than Republicans (57 percent) to say so.
Interestingly, whites are more likely to say they see fake news often than blacks or Hispanics, as are those with incomes above $75,000.
Fighting the issue
As for whose problem fake news is, most people think everyone bears a bit of responsibility for eradicating it.
The largest share, 45 percent, say the government and elected officials should be leading this charge. Forty-two percent say social media should have responsibility, with more self-policing.
But 42 percent also believe the public bears responsibility as well and should be educating itself so as not to fall for fake stories.
“Age is the only area where clear demographic differences emerge. Americans ages 50 and older are more likely to place a great deal of responsibility on the government (53 percent) than those ages 18 to 49 (38 percent),” says the report.
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