One-Third of Americans Rely on News Sources They Consider ‘Less Reliable’

(CN) – A new report released Monday shows that a third of Americans use admittedly less reliable news sources, such as social media and peers, while two-thirds consider their sources to be trustworthy, consisting of printed news and broadcast television.

The Rand Corporation report comes from a survey of 2,543 Americans in order to determine what makes people choose one news source over another, factoring in reliability, demographics and partisanship. It also delves into how often people actively seek out viewpoints that differ from their own in the news.

The pollsters identified the four most common combinations of news sources Americans consume daily: print publications and broadcast television, online, radio and social media and peers.

This is the newest installment in a series of reports funded by RAND researching the phenomenon known as truth decay, in which there is a diminishing reliance on facts, data, and analysis in American public life.

“A lack of time and competing demands may explain why a third of Americans turn to news sources they deem less reliable, which suggests improving the quality of news content or teaching people how to ‘better consume’ news isn’t enough to address Truth Decay,” said Jennifer Kavanagh, senior political scientist and co-author of the report.

“Media companies and other news providers may need to provide more easily accessible and digestible ways for individuals to consume high quality investigative journalism,” she added.

Truth decay has been increasing in presence for the past two decades, resulting in what Kavanagh describes as a blurred line between fact and opinion. Statistics show that 44% of respondents believe news is just as reliable now as it’s been in the past, 41% said it’s become less reliable, and 15% said it’s more reliable. It is noteworthy that the third group consisted of mostly women, racial and ethnic minorities and individuals without college degrees.

Furthermore, respondents who said they read print news and watch broadcast platforms were more likely to deem them trustworthy and reliable. On the other hand, respondents who said they rely on social media and their peers for the news admit they don’t see these as reliable sources, yet continue to obtain their news from them.

“Our findings suggest that perceived reliability is not the only factor that drives what Americans choose as their go-to news sources,” said Michael Pollard, a sociologist and lead author of the report. “Despite acknowledging that there are more reliable sources for news, people with demands on their time may be limited to using less reliable platforms.”

Another factor contributing to truth decay is identified as cognitive bias, in which the social and political reality an individual has built for themselves is not something they like to stray from. When asked how often they seek out alternate viewpoints when obtaining their news, 54% of respondents said they “sometimes” do, 20% said “always or almost always,” 17% said “infrequently,” and 9% said “never or almost never.”

“Political partisanship was linked to whether or not individuals were willing to seek out different viewpoints,” Pollard said. “For example, those who self-identified as more liberal were more likely than conservatives to report that they ‘never or almost never’ seek differing views.”

The survey was conducted via the RAND American Life Panel, a probability-based panel accessible nationally to over 6,000 participants who regularly volunteer to be interviewed over the internet. The results identified some major trends in who gets their news from where. For example, age was one of the most prominent factors in predicting where respondents get their news.

Those who were younger were found to be more likely to obtain their news from social media and peers, while older individuals were more likely to prefer print publications and broadcast television as their main news source.

Individuals with a college education were found less likely to use social media and peers for news, and instead turned to the radio or online sources. Additionally, individuals without a college education were more likely to report “never or almost never” when asked if they ever seek out news with opposing viewpoints.

Individuals who are married were three times more likely than those who are single to believe their peers are the most reliable news source, and unmarried respondents were more likely than married people to report they “always or almost always” seek out opposing viewpoints when catching up on the news.

Previous reports in RAND’s Truth Decay series have looked into different aspects of changing media and information landscapes.

These include a linguistic analysis that discovered an increasing subjectivity in “new media” sources, like social media, in comparison to more traditional forms of news, and an interesting examination into media literacy initiatives in the United States to make news more accessible.

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