Real opin­ions: Amer­i­cans say ‘fake news’ is a gi­ant prob­lem

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Tali Ar­bel

NEW YORK — Half of U.S. adults con­sider “fake news” a ma­jor prob­lem, and they mostly blame politi­cians and ac­tivists for it, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey.

A ma­jor­ity also be­lieve jour­nal­ists have the re­spon­si­bil­ity for fix­ing it. Dif­fer­ences in po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion are a ma­jor fac­tor in how peo­ple think about fake news, as Repub­li­cans are more likely than Democrats to also blame jour­nal­ists for the prob­lem.

The ques­tion of how to deal with made-up or mis­lead­ing sto­ries has em­broiled politi­cians, civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tions and tech com­pa­nies in the af­ter­math of mis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paigns by Rus­sians and others aimed at un­der­min­ing demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions in the U.S. and Europe.

A sur­vey from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, re­leased last week, finds that 68% of U.S. adults be­lieve fake news af­fects con­fi­dence in gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions. Mis­in­for­ma­tion was cited more of­ten as a ma­jor prob­lem than sex­ism, racism, illegal im­mi­gra­tion or ter­ror­ism.

Pew typ­i­cally left the def­i­ni­tion of “made-up news and in­for­ma­tion” open-ended, though some questions spec­i­fied that it was in­for­ma­tion “in­tended to mis­lead the pub­lic.”

As for who’s to blame for false in­for­ma­tion, 57% pointed the fin­ger at po­lit­i­cal lead­ers and their staffs, while 53% said ac­tivist groups bore re­spon­si­bil­ity. Jour­nal­ists and for­eign ac­tors such as Rus­sia each got the blame from more than a third of sur­vey par­tic­i­pants.

Repub­li­cans were more likely than Democrats to re­port see­ing made-up news and were more pes­simistic that it could be fixed. Pew noted that Repub­li­cans tend to be more skep­ti­cal about the me­dia and more likely to think cov­er­age is one-sided.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who of­ten makes re­marks that aren’t true, reg­u­larly ac­cuses me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions of mak­ing up news he doesn’t like. He has of­ten crit­i­cized CNN and prefers Fox News. On Mon­day, he called CNN “fake news” in a tweet and even sug­gested a boy­cott of its par­ent com­pany, wire­less car­rier AT&T.

“He tends to see any­thing that’s po­lit­i­cally in­con­ve­nient as made-up news or fake news,” said Nina Jankow­icz, a fel­low at the Wil­son Cen­ter who stud­ies Rus­sian in­flu­ence cam­paigns. “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if that kind of trans­ferred to his fol­low­ers as well.”

Repub­li­cans take the idea of made-up news to “mean news that is critical of Trump,” rather than non­sense sto­ries, said Yochai Ben­kler, a Har­vard Law School pro­fes­sor who wrote a book on dis­in­for­ma­tion and right-wing me­dia.

Like Trump, 62% of Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can­lean­ing in­de­pen­dents said fake news is a big prob­lem, com­pared with 40% of Democrats and Democratle­an­ing in­de­pen­dents.

Repub­li­cans were more likely to blame jour­nal­ists for the fake-news prob­lem, at 58%, while 20% of Democrats said jour­nal­ists cre­ate made-up news. Repub­li­cans were far more likely to be­lieve that jour­nal­ists in­sert­ing their own views into sto­ries was a big prob­lem in keep­ing the pub­lic in­formed (60%, com­pared with 20% among Democrats).

Roughly half of Repub­li­cans and Democrats alike said they have un­know­ingly shared fake news, and about 1 in 10 said they have shared sto­ries they al­ready knew were un­true.

While the gov­ern­ment has pres­sured tech com­pa­nies to rid their ser­vices of mis­in­for­ma­tion, the ma­jor­ity of those polled, 53%, said that jour­nal­ists have the big­gest re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­duce made-up sto­ries. An­other 12% said that fell to gov­ern­ment, and only 9% said tech com­pa­nies had the duty. One-fifth said the pub­lic had the greatest re­spon­si­bil­ity to re­duce fake news.

“It’s sur­pris­ing that peo­ple didn’t think the tech sec­tor and the gov­ern­ment should be re­spon­si­ble,” Jankow­icz said, be­cause jour­nal­ism has its lim­its in its abil­ity to stamp out wrong in­for­ma­tion. Read­ers are more likely to remember in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion than the cor­rec­tion, she said.

The sur­vey polled 6,127 adults and has a mar­gin of sam­pling er­ror of plus or mi­nus 1.6 per­cent­age points.

ALTAF QADRI/AP

A man browses Alt News, a fact-check­ing web­site. A sur­vey finds politi­cians get the most blame for fake news.

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