Poll Finds Americans Struggle Telling Real News From Fake

(CN) – In a time of ever-widening political divides, most Americans also struggle to determine whether the news they read every day is accurate, according to a poll by The Associated Press released Thursday.

Reporters with various forms of “fake news” from an 1894 illustration by Frederick Burr Opper.

But people’s news selections – and their level of trust in sources in those reports – also fall sharply along political party lines, according to the poll by AP, NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and USAFacts.

The poll found that 47% of Americans, regardless of political belief, regularly come across news reports that cannot immediately be verified as accurate. Another 31% said they have no problem verifying accuracy.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans polled report seeing news reports that were one-sided or failed to present information in a contextualized and balanced way.

Philip Napoli of Duke University said in an interview he isn’t surprised Americans struggle with news literacy given the “gatekeeping” by media companies.

“The number of gatekeepers has increased and with media fragmentation these gatekeepers operate with a range of motives,” said Napoli, whose research focuses on media policy and social media. “Also, these new gatekeepers, including social media sites, do so little to parse out the good information from the bad.”

People come across news links while on social media and those links become information sources whether people trust them or not, Napoli said in the interview.

“You may be perusing social media for a host of reasons and that’s where you get exposed to news, and it may be incidental exposure,” Napoli said.

As public hearings into the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump began on Capitol Hill this week, the poll found that political party allegiances also shape Americans’ methods for news gathering.

Republicans told pollsters they are more likely to trust news updates from President Donald Trump, though most Americans (61%) said they don’t trust information that comes from the president.

Napoli said “devotion” to a candidate or a president has come to define partisanship in politics in a way it hasn’t before.

“It’s the way partisanship has evolved in our country, which now takes the form of almost blind devotion,” Napoli said. “How much of it means antagonism towards the other party or just a degree of blind loyalty on both sides that I don’t think it used to mean.”

Nearly half of Americans (45%) said they believe members of Congress have tremendous influence on the news coming from the federal government while only 30% said the same of federal employees.

The survey found that 72% of surveyed Democrats said they are more likely to trust news that features interviews with scientists. Only 40% of Republicans said the same.

And about 6 in 10 Americans, regardless of political beliefs, said they are very likely to consider news reports to be factual if they’re based on data. The same percentage of people said they go directly to government websites for information.

Local TV news programs are the primary source of information for 52% of Americans, while 50% get their news from national TV outlets and 40% from cable news programs, according to the poll.

Information about the federal government hosted on social media sites and apps make up the primary news sources for 54% of people surveyed in the poll, though a majority said they have little confidence in the accuracy of the information.

There’s little reason to believe technology and social media will evolve in ways that increase news accuracy, Napoli said, adding that countries should instead focus on widespread news literacy campaigns, including in schools.

Social media giant Twitter announced last month it will ban all political advertisements to stem large-scale, targeted messages that company officials believe influence votes and spread false information.

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has been grilled by members of Congress for saying the social media site will not ban political ads containing false statements.

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