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Many Americans believe that fake news creates confusion

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After the 2016 election, everyone from President Obama to Pope Francis has raised concerns about fake news and its potential impact on political life and innocent people. Some fake news became widespread, and so-called “Pizzagate” stories resulted in a North Carolina man hauling a gun into a popular Washington DC pizza place under the impression that it was hiding a child prostitution ring.

Most Americans suspect fictional news is making an impact, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center. About two in three adults in the United States (64%) say fictional news creates a lot of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. This feeling is common across income, education level, party affiliation, and most other demographics. These results come from a survey of 1,002 US adults conducted December 1-4, 2016.

Although they feel these stories create confusion, Americans show a fair amount of confidence in their own ability to spot fake news, with about four in ten (39%) being very confident about spotting fake news and another 45% feeling reasonably confident optimistic. Overall, about a third (32%) of Americans say they often watch fictional political news online. While it is difficult to accurately measure the extent to which people actually see completely fictional news – since news consumers see but not recognize fictional news and confuse factual stories with fake ones – these numbers provide a high level of public awareness of this type of content.

And some Americans say they shared fake news themselves. Overall, 23% said they had ever shared a fictional news story, 14% said they shared a story they knew at the time was fake, and 16% said they shared a story from which they later realized it was fake.

When it comes to preventing fake news from spreading, many Americans expect social networks, politicians, and the public themselves to do their part. 45% of adults in the US say that governments, politicians, and elected officials have a huge responsibility to ensure that fabricated stories go unnoticed, as do the 43% who say so in public and the 42% who do it in relation to it on society say network sites and search engines. Although the overall proportion of Americans who place responsibility on everyone is roughly the same, individuals have different views on how that responsibility should be shared. Only 15% of Americans attribute great responsibility to all three of these groups, while a majority (58%) think one or two of them have great responsibility.

The feeling that fake news is causing confusion transcends party and demographic boundaries

While fake news became an issue during the high-profile presidential campaign in 2016, Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to say that these stories are deeply unsettling Americans about current events. About six in ten Republicans say completely fabricated news causes a lot of confusion (57%), and about the same percentage of Democrats say the same thing (64%). And while the Independents outperform Republicans (69% say fake news creates a lot of confusion), they are on par with the Democrats. This perception is broadly consistent across education, race, gender, and age as well, although there are some differences by income. While a majority of those who make less than $ 30,000 a year say fake news creates a lot of confusion (58%), this is a smaller percentage than those who make between $ 30,000 and $ 75,000 (65%) %) and those making $ 75,000 or more (73%).

Americans are generally confident about spotting fake news

Although Americans generally view fake news as very confusing, most are at least reasonably confident that they can tell for themselves when a message is almost entirely fabricated. About four in ten (39%) are very confident, while another 45% are more confident. Only 9% are not very confident and 6% are not at all confident. (This is similar to the general confidence Americans have in their ability to tell when information on the Internet is trustworthy.)

Again, there are no differences between the partisans: 36% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats, and 40% of Independents say they are very confident about spotting fabricated news. There are also no consistent differences in who feels very safe about age, gender, income, or race.

About a third say they often see fake political news online

Almost one in three US adults (32%) says they frequently see fake political news online, while 39% see such stories sometimes and 26% rarely or never. In a rare case of demographic differences, whites are more likely than blacks and Hispanics to report watching fake news frequently, and those with an annual income of $ 75,000 or more are more likely than those who earn less than $ 75,000.

Americans have a certain ability to differentiate between almost entirely fabricated political messages and those that are partially imprecise. About half (51%) of adults in the United States say they often see at least somewhat inaccurate political news online – a higher proportion than those who say they see news that is almost entirely made up.

Frequent observers of fabricated political news online are more likely to believe that fake news creates confusion – and are more certain that they can identify it. About eight in ten (82%) of those who say they see fake news frequently online think that such completely fabricated news causes a lot of confusion, compared to 56% of those who see fake news less often. And 51% of those who watch fake news frequently are very confident of seeing fake news, compared to a third of those who watch it less often.

Of course, there are limits to what this self-reported information can capture as it cannot determine whether these levels of confidence are really warranted. For example, there could be more fake news on the Internet that go unnoticed (despite a high level of confidence in one’s own ability to detect it) or news that is mistakenly believed to be fabricated. Further research could help uncover these different possibilities. It is already clear, however, that Americans perceive fake political news on the Internet as a constant threat – but see themselves as being quite adept at knowing when a story is fabricated.

Almost a quarter of Americans say they shared fake political news online

Some Americans claim to have contributed directly to the spread of fake news by sharing it themselves. About a quarter (23%) say they have ever shared such stories, while roughly equal parts know they knowingly and unknowingly shared fictional news.

As much as 16% of US adults say they accidentally spread fake political news and only later discover that it was entirely fabricated. This is more common among those who say they see such fake political news often (22%) than those who say they see less fake news (13%), even though there are no consistent demographic differences.

A similar percentage, 14%, say they shared fake news that they knew were made up – whether to spread misinformation, “call out” the stories as fake, for amusement or other reasons.

Taken these two questions together, about a quarter (23%) of American adults say they have ever knowingly or unknowingly shared a fake political news story online, with 7% both knowing this and knowing that they knew that a story was made. 9% only share when they don’t know and 7% only share when they know.

Social media, politicians, and the public are all called upon to prevent the spread of fabricated news

If fake news spreading is a problem, then who is responsible for it? In the month since the presidential election, social networking sites and search engines have taken steps to address the problem. The government and the public themselves have also been urged to take action.

Americans together assign a fairly high and roughly equal responsibility to all three groups. A whopping 45% say government, politicians, and elected officials have a great deal of responsibility, roughly equal to the proportion who say a large part of the responsibility lies with the public (43%) and social networks and search engines (42%). ).

While each of these three groups has been viewed as responsible by roughly an equal percentage of the public, it is not that every American thinks that each has a great deal of responsibility. In fact, only 15% of US adults say so of all three groups, while 58% said one (31%) or two (27%) of the three groups.

Age is the only area where there are significant demographic differences. Americans aged 50 and older are more likely to have high government responsibilities (53%) than people aged 18 to 49 (38%). There are no demographic differences in how much responsibility the public or social networks and search engines have.

There is also a partisan difference in how much responsibility the government has to prevent the spread of fake news. While about half of Republicans (48%) and Democrats (49%) say government has a great deal of responsibility, only about four in 10 independents (38%) say so.

However, there are no party differences with regard to the responsibilities of the other two groups.

Those who say they often see fictional political news online are more likely to say that each of the three groups has a great deal of responsibility. About half (53%) bear a lot of responsibility towards politicians (compared to 41% who are less likely to see fake political news online), on social networking sites and search engines (53% vs. 37%), and the public (51%) .). % vs. 39%).

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