9 out of 10 Americans don't fact-check information they read on social media

American adults spread fake news because they place a lot of trust in their social media friends and acquaintances.
Written by Eileen Brown, Contributor

Our media landscape is perfectly ripe for the pervasive spread of fake news to continue. That is a huge problem for brands, elected leaders, public figures, and -- perhaps -- civil society itself.

Newspapers, television, and radio is irrevocably losing ground in favor of social media and alternative news sites.

Social media has disrupted the way we spread news. We share news articles, prefacing them with our own commentary -- or we comment or like articles shared by our friends -- from whatever the news source happens to be.

That is a lot of blind trust in outlets that do not always publish fact-checked news. News content is overlooked as we consume articles at speed and propagate them across social media sites.

It seems that fact-checking articles has become secondary to re-broadcasting the information as quickly as possible.

The challenge with fake news is that our feeds are populated with content that is based on the social actions of our friends. So, if a post is shared by a friend, we are more likely to see it in our news feed -- whether that post is authentic or fake.

Here, at ZDNet, Jason Perlow talked about "Technology Augmented Autism" and our short attention spans. We are our own worst enemies, as we curate our feeds to show us content that we totally agree with, and we connect with our friends that tend to show us similar viewpoints.

We do not feel comfortable with conflicting views on our feeds. We mute them in favour of reading information from people just like us.

In our rush to be the first to break and share the news, we forget to check whether the story is actually true.

This leads to stories being exposed as fake and retracted. As a result, we no longer trust certain news outlets, even some TV channels. Yes, the TV still dominates our media consumption -- although this is not true for millennials.

Fake news stories begin by being circulated in a small group, or bubble, of individuals who share similar interests and political beliefs. They share these stories on related forums and social networks.

Fake news sites only need one of these stories to break free of these small cliques and enter the mainstream. The topic can then gain traction.

When someone loosely connected to a group circulating a story sees it on their social media feed and shares the story. The stories break free of the clique and spreads -- even if it is not true themselves.

Zignal Labs commissioned a survey on current media trends to discover how many people do not actually check the information they see in their feeds. In January, it surveyed over 2,000 adults based in the US aged 18 and older.

It discovered that 86 percent of Americans who read news articles on social media do not always fact-check the information they read. In fact, 61 percent who read articles on social media sites are likely to like, share, or comment on content shared by a friend.

Although 16 percent of Americans on social media say they trust most or all of the content shared by friends, 27 percent of Americans who do not always fact-check articles they read on social media admit they also share news articles they don't fact check.

The survey also showed that Americans with a college degree are more likely to fact-check information before sharing.

Millennials and Gen Z are social news junkies, using social media as their main source of news. They are about three-times more likely to trust most or all of the news from these alternative news sites compared with adults aged from 55 to 64.

They are also almost four times as likely to trust this news stream compared to adults aged 65 and over (27 percent versus 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively).

Thirty-five percent of Americans said that their lack of trust in mainstream media for credible news has caused them to seek alternate news sources online.

Josh Ginsberg, CEO of Zignal Labs, said: "Although there's no question the media is essential to democracy, what's quite clear from our research is that a growing force of Americans, particularly young people, no longer turn to traditional outlets first.

Social media and alternative news sites are gaining ground at the expense of traditional broadcast and print outlets."

During the presidential election campaign an army of automated chatbots inundated Twitter with propaganda and fake news.

When people hear about artificial intelligence, they are either terrified of an automated takeover or see possibilities by machine learning and robotics.

While 2017 will not be the year that robots work alongside us or take all of our jobs, it could be the year where we will see smarter removal of "alternative facts".

The rise of virtual assistants across media sites such as Facebook will soon become indispensable tools to fight the fake news flood.

Related stories:

Editorial standards