Fake news a boon for trust in mainstream media

LONDON, 22 June 2017: 

Most people don’t trust the mainstream media and are even more suspicious of social media, a survey revealed today – though it said social networks were vital for under-reported stories such as LGBT and migrant issues.

The latest Digital News Report – from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism – found high scepticism about news and comment, with 33% of more than 70,000 consumers polled in 36 countries saying they can’t rely on the news to be true.

Only 24% of people said social media did a good job separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for mainstream media.

In countries like the US and Britain, people were twice as likely to have faith in the news media to weed out fake news. Greece was the only country where people said social media was better at dividing truth from fantasy.

“Although mainstream media is not trusted, it is still trusted twice as much for separating fact from fiction as social media,” said Nic Newman, lead author of the sixth annual Digital News Report.

“Fake news could be the best thing that has happened to journalism in a long while. It’s an opportunity to re-establish the value of mainstream brands and focus on quality.”

Newman said this has led to a hike in digital subscriptions to news organisations in the US, with 16% now prepared to pay for news compared to 9%, and evidence that more people might be prepared to pay elsewhere.

Despite a commonly held view that younger consumers would not pay online, the annual study that examines global news consumption found people under 35 were willing to pay for quality news, just as they did for music and video services.

The online survey, by pollster YouGov, was the first time the Reuters Institute has looked at the response to the quality of information on social media, with 54% of consumers now using social media for news.

The Reuters Institute, which is funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has looked previously at overall levels of trust in the media – finding a strong connection between distrust in the media and perceived media bias.

This was strongest in nations with high levels of political polarisation like the US, Hungary and Italy. US president Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the established news media for peddling “fake news” and gained traction during the election campaign by complaining of unfair media coverage.

“But in the United States, trust in the media has increased a bit in the past year partly because a lot of the mistrust came from people on the right, Trump supporters.

“While in the UK, trust in the media fell due to a sense the right-wing press was pushing a pro-Brexit agenda.”

Newman said social networks were not going away, even though users are moving more to messaging apps for news – frustrated by the level of debate on networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

“It is very popular to criticise social media but it is very good for incidental news and especially in countries where the media is controlled by the government.

“It exposes people to a far greater range of views and issues such as during the migrant crisis when people were reporting directly from camps … or on LGBT issues.”

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