Fake news is rapidly becoming one of the most widely discussed topics in society, with the discussion turning to whether or not it is damaging the reputation of online media. It adds considerably to the conundrum of imperfect information, making it far more difficult for consumers to be sure they are gaining maximum utility from any given piece of news they read online.
The social costs of such news articles were particularly apparent in the 2016 US Election, where the rapid growth of fake news contributed to voters’ deciding which electoral candidate they preferred.
In addition, 115 pro-Trump stories were shared 30 million times compared to 41 pro-Clinton stories which were shared only 7 million times, which further strengthens the argument that fake news may have had a major impact in swaying the US Election towards Mr Trump.
Data collected from our longitudinal study Trajectory Global Foresight, however, suggests that people are growing less trusting of social media. The data from 2011-2018 shows a fluctuation in net trust in social media from consumers, and particularly of note is a fall from 26 to 32 percent between 2015 and 2018.
62 percent of adults read news on social media, and the most popular fake news stories were more widely shared on Facebook than the most popular mainstream news stories were. Therefore, this fall in trust in social media between these 2 years suggests that consumers are aware of the rise in fake news and are losing trust in many sources of information they read within Social Media because of it; only choosing to read ones they believe they can still trust.
Other data, collected as part of our Trajectory Global Foresight study, provides an argument to suggest that there is also growing distrust amongst the public for more traditional forms of media. The data shows an even greater fluctuation in net trust with newspapers than with social media, and most strikingly, a 12 percent decrease in net trust between 2015 and 2018.
The increased political polarisation within the UK is one obvious catalyst for this dramatic fall in trust. Between the 2015 and 2017 Elections, 12 percent more Social Liberals voted Labour and 9 percent more Social Conservatives voted Conservative. Such polarisation is therefore clear to see, and this will no doubt have had an impact on how people perceive the information they read in their newspaper of choice.
People will be likely to strongly agree with the opinions of the newspaper they purchase and disregard any other sources elsewhere on the ideological spectrum. When this behaviour occurs repeatedly online it creates what are known as ‘filter bubbles’, where people choose to block or hide any information that disagrees with their own opinion and lose trust in huge proportions of all other media with differing opinions.
These bubbles are most noticeable at either end of the spectrum when examining 2014 Pew Research Center Data, which shows the highest percentages of people in the US who block views that disagree with them were the most consistently either liberal or conservative.
A loss of trust from the public with all forms of media therefore appears to be emerging and is being caused not only by an increase in fake news within social media, but also the growing distance between the social and political views of the major political parties and their voters. Both these issues are then causing people to limit their trust solely to views that exactly align with their own, hence reducing overall trust for the media in general.