Study: How Fake News is Destroying Trust

Jeff Dugan
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Following our post on the dominance of fake news over the truth, we will share stats from another study, the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual trust and credibility survey that’s been running for 18 years. The results largely corroborate what the previous story revealed and sheds light on the repercussions.

To give you a quick idea about the previous study. A group of researchers at MIT looked at more than a hundred thousand rumour cascades on Twitter and compared their performance to truthful tweets. They found that the truth does not stand a chance; fake news spread faster and further in every topic they studied.

Now the Edelman report revealed that the ascendancy of fake news is having severe implications on people’s faith in the media: In 22 out of the 28 countries they surveyed, trust in the media fell below 50%.

Blurring Lines

The report bases its conclusions on answers from 33 thousand respondents. Here’s what they learned from it:

  • 63% said they can longer differentiate good journalism from rumours and falsehoods
  • 59% said it was becoming harder to tell if a media organization behind a piece of news was trustworthy
  • And nearly 7 in 10 respondents said that they were worried about the potential use of false information as a weapon

The study also gleans an interesting insight: the confusion regarding the credibility of news probably stems from people’s broad definition of what constitutes the media, with some including platforms in the media:

  • 48% included social media
  • 25% included search engines

World’s Apart

In previous surveys, trust has moved largely in tandem in different countries, but for the first time ever the study found that there is a distinct split between trust gainers and losers. The US for instance witnessed a hard decline in trust – a 37-point aggregate drop across all institutions – whereas China experienced a 27-point gain. Those two countries represented the two ends of the spectrum.

Journalists Buck the Trend

While trust in media witnessed a historic fall, people’s opinion of journalists rose substantially. A number of factors are driving this paradox. This trend also extended to what the report calls “voices of expertise”.

  • The credibility of journalists experienced a double-digit increase in 20 of 28 surveyed countries
  • Journalists gained 12 points
  • CEOs gained 7 points
  • Technical experts, financial industry analysts, and successful entrepreneurs all registered credibility levels of 50 percent or higher

On the other hand, the credibility of peers dropped for the first time in 7 years, losing six points to 54%.

Finally, NGOs also seemed to suffer: trust in NGOs dropped by three points globally. This may be driven by a lack of transparency or action.

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Jeff Dugan
Jeff Dugan

Jeffrey is a veteran tech columnist and reviewer. His favorite hobby is scouring the internet for tips, tricks, and little-known tools to get the best out of the web.

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