As mass media has become more segregated, the news, in particular, has to address one challenging question. Do people actually care about accuracy?
There seems to be anecdotal evidence that people judge the trustworthiness of sources based not on a history of reporting accuracy but rather, an alignment in worldview. Since most people (about 72%) struggle to identify factual versus opinion statements, this trend both confuses and alarms journalists. The instant-sharing and self-segregation on social media continue to churn misinformation at the same time that trust in reliable news sources wavers. No one, from platform moderators to politicians, has been able to decode this baffling behavior; people don’t trust the news on social media, but they read and share it, regardless.
People Don’t Trust News on Social Media
According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 68% of Americans get their news from social media. This has been consistent, and growing, over the past several years.
Additionally, most people (57% of respondents) are skeptical about the accuracy of the news they find on social media. Not surprisingly, Republicans are more negative (72%) about the news compared to Democrats (46%) and independents (52%). The key point is that respondents say it has had little effect on how they “understand current events”.
When the researchers asked what people liked about getting news through social media, respondents ranked convenience at 21%. Features that social media platforms laud are less enjoyed, such as:
- 8% enjoy interactions with other users
- 3% enjoy the diversity of sources
- 2% like the ability to tailor content
“Trending” and “news” sections have been endlessly tinkered. Nevertheless, the endless scroll of whatever we’ve chosen to follow feels like an on-demand glimpse into what’s happening right now.
Misinformation Thrives Online
The perennial pro and con of the internet is that the gatekeepers are gone. While it’s true that those who were “first” and those with the most money have swallowed up the majority of the online audience, the setup is not as formalized or linear as traditional media. Followers are fickle and they favor the fantastic.
The incentive to create false information remains robust. Eyes are money. All those eyes, clicks, and shares are endlessly drawn to dubious posts.
It seems that we are asking the wrong questions about what people want from their news, especially social media. Traditionally, accuracy implies a universal truth. However, our culture rejects that concept. It seems that people consider information to be accurate if it doesn’t contradict their worldview.
I’m keeping my eyes open for a study that explores that semantic distinction and the psychology behind it.
- Shearer, E., & Matsa, K. E. (2018, September 10). News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2018. Retrieved January 15, 2020, from http://www.journalism.org/2018/09/10/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2018/