More Americans Worried About 'Fake News' Than Terrorism, Racism And Climate Change: Poll

A new survey from Pew Research Center has found that Americans view fake news as a bigger threat than terrorism, violent crime, climate change, racism and illegal immigration

The survey also found that 68% of US adults say that made-up news and information "greatly impacts Americans' confidence in government institutions," while 54% say it's having a major impact on confidence between fellow Americans, and 51% say it impacts the ability of political leaders to get work done. 

Who's to blame? According to those surveyed, political leaders and activists are more responsible for fake news than journalists, however they believe that it is the primary responsibility of those in the news media to fix the problem. They also said that the issue will become worse down the road. 

The vast majority of Americans say they sometimes or often encounter made-up news. In response, many have altered their news consumption habits, including by fact-checking the news they get and changing the sources they turn to for news.

In addition, about eight-in-ten U.S. adults (79%) believe steps should be taken to restrict made-up news, as opposed to 20% who see it as protected communication. -Pew

Nearly four-in-ten (38%) of Americans reported 'often' coming across made-up news and information, while another 51% say they 'sometimes' do. In response, Americans have changed their news and technology habits

Around 78% of respondents say they fact-check news stories, while 63% have stopped getting news from a particular outlet. 52% say they have changed the way they use social media, while 43% have reduced their overall consumption of news. 

Concern about made-up news has also affected how U.S. adults interact with each other. Half say they have avoided talking with someone because they thought that person would bring made-up news into the conversation.

In the digital environment, half of social media news consumers have stopped following someone they know because they thought the person was posting made-up news and information, and the same percentage have stopped following a news organization for this reason. -Pew

Republicans more concerned than Democrats

According to the survey, Republicans express greater skepticism than Democrats about fake news coverage, tend to blame journalists more for it, and generally see fake news as a larger problem. 

A solid majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (62%) say made-up news is a very big problem in the country today, compared with fewer than half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (40%). Republicans also register greater exposure to made-up news. About half of Republicans (49%) say they come across it often, 19 percentage points higher than Democrats (30%).

One of the starkest differences, though, is in assigning blame for creating made-up news and information. Republicans are nearly three times as likely as Democrats to say journalists create a lot of it (58% vs. 20%).

Republicans also place more blame on activist groups, with about three-quarters (73%) saying these groups create a lot, close to twice the rate of Democrats (38%). Political leaders and their staff, though, rank high for both sides of the aisle – half or more of each party say they create a lot. And while members of both parties say the news media bear the primary responsibility for fixing the situation, that feeling is considerably more pervasive among Republicans (69%) than Democrats (42%). -Pew

Satire is no biggie

Pew also asked about distinctions between five types of information; 'Fake News', altered video/images, breaking news that is unverified, factual information that is biased, and satire about an issue or an event. 

The survey found that 67% say fake news designed to mislead causes a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues, while 63% say the same about fake video / images. Of those polled, 79% and 77% respectively say that something should be done to restrict this type of content. 

A whopping 24% said that Satire causes a "great deal of confusion," while 48% said it causes "some confusion" and 27% saying not much if any. 

Other key findings (via Pew Research Center)

  • Americans feel that political divides in the country are the greatest obstacle to addressing the problem of made-up news and information. Almost two-thirds (64%) see those divides as a very big challenge. Between 41% and 44% cite the ability to make money from made-up news, digital technology, the public’s lack of effort and low awareness about current events as very big hurdles to a solution.
  • Americans see a lot of made-up news and information being generated around two major topics: politics and elections (73%) and entertainment and celebrities (61%). Both politics and entertainment far exceed all of the other four topics asked about.
  • In a related finding, Americans say that far more made-up news gets created around national issues and events than around local ones. About six-in-ten (58%) say a lot of made-up news is created around national issues, compared with 18% who say the same about local issues.
  • When it comes to identifying very big problems connected to keeping the public informed about current issues and events, about half of Americans (49%) put the amount of made-up news and information in that category. A similar percentage (51%) cites the public’s ability to distinguish between facts and opinions as a very big problem, compared with 37% who see journalists inserting their own views into coverage as a very big problem in how the public stays informed.