Fake news is everywhere these days...or is it? Is it just a buzzword someone throws out when they don't like something they've read? Or is there a more widespread problem of manipulated content depicting a false reality — and that nobody can tell the difference?
Our new report entitled "The State of Misinformation 2021" evaluates the threat people in both the US and Europe believe fake news to be. The report asks how much of a problem do people think fake news is, and how much do they think it influences their life. It also asks who they believe is responsible for it, and how the issue of fake news can be solved.
Here are ten things we uncovered about the state of fake news.
What exactly is "fake news"? The Columbia Journalism Review has identified six types of fake news, and the report reveals that there are three types that people see most in their news feeds:
Manipulated content (US): This refers to images or videos that have been doctored to show situations that never happened. Unfortunately, these types of visual lies spread as the truth.
Authentic material used in the wrong context (US and Europe): This is when an image or video from another event is said to be from a different event, like showing a demonstration from a few years ago and saying that it happened today. It's real content, but deliberately put in a different context to mislead.
Fake information (Europe): Fake information is simply wrong or fabricated information that is spread through social posts, images, and graphics, with the assumption that people will circulate it without checking it.
The three other pieces of fake news that also appear are imposter news sites designed to look like brands we already know, fake news sites, and parody content.
People are not as proficient as they think they are about noticing fake news when it appears in front of them, as the report uncovered. In both the US and Europe, 93% of respondents were confident that they could spot fake news when they saw it. But over one-third of respondents had mistakenly shared misinformation in the past. This means that the fake news did its job in deceiving the viewer.
The report also reveals that people believe they aren't seeing much fake news. Over half of the respondents believe they're only seeing fake news up to five times per week on social media, which means only one piece per day as they scroll. Yet as we learned above, respondents weren't good at spotting fake news when they saw it, which means that it's probably more pervasive than the once-a-day frequency they think they're seeing.
Fake news, manipulated content, and misinformation has become such a detriment that US respondents believed that fake news is more of a threat to society than terrorism. Additionally, while they didn't believe fake news was as big as a threat as data theft or climate change, fake news was only a few percentage points lower.
While Europeans didn't view fake news to be as big of a societal threat as the US did, over 60% believed that fake news played some kind of role in influencing elections across Europe. 70% of people in the US believed that fake news directly impacted the results of the 2020 Presidential elections, and nearly 80% believe that misinformation influences elections in general.
One good outcome of the threat of fake news is that more people are now checking sources and becoming more aware of the content they're taking in. Upwards of 40% say they now check facts themselves, and over half admit to seeking out additional sources if they find information they don't trust. This is a great finding in that people are taking it upon themselves to be informed about the content they consume and to increase their media literacy.
The report uncovers that about half of those interacting with fake news don't fact-check it, but either choose to avoid the site, stay off of social media, or continue interacting with the misinformation even if they feel uneasy. This reveals that some people are either avoiding fake news altogether instead of educating themselves about it, or simply don't know what to do when they encounter it.
When it comes to holding someone or some entity responsible for fake news, the US and Europe were split. Europeans believed that everyone was responsible, including individuals, the government, news outlets, and media, but that Facebook, Google, and Twitter held a bit more of the blame. For the US, where fake news has become such a rampant threat, the majority of respondents blamed individuals as being the ones responsible for the spread.
Even though European respondents believed that tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, as well as individuals, were most responsible for the problem of fake news, they didn't believe they would be the ones to solve it. Instead, those surveyed believed that governments or regulators have a role to play in stepping in to solve the fake news problem.
Regardless of who does it, respondents were clear on what could help solve the fake news problem: 44% stated they would trust content more if they knew the author and organization behind it, 64% wanted all content on the internet to show version history and how the piece has changed, and half of respondents believed that search engines should limit content that has no author or organization attached to it.
We've known that fake news has been an issue for a while, but this new report reveals that people are not wholly aware of fake news when they see it — which means they're being deceived by manipulated content and misinformation, and then sharing it to their friends. And while there's not a consensus on who should solve it, the way to solve it is clear: More accountability, more transparency, and governments have a role to play.