Amy Mitchell et al., Pew Research Center, June 5, 2019
Many Americans say the creation and spread of made-up news and information is causing significant harm to the nation and needs to be stopped, according to a new Pew Research Center survey of 6,127 U.S. adults conducted between Feb. 19 and March 4, 2019, on the Center’s American Trends Panel.
Indeed, more Americans view made-up news as a very big problem for the country than identify terrorism, illegal immigration, racism and sexism that way. Additionally, nearly seven-in-ten U.S. adults (68%) say made-up news and information greatly impacts Americans’ confidence in government institutions, and roughly half (54%) say it is having a major impact on our confidence in each other.
U.S. adults blame political leaders and activists far more than journalists for the creation of made-up news intended to mislead the public. But they believe it is primarily the responsibility of journalists to fix the problem. And they think the issue will get worse in the foreseeable future.
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.
Similar to Americans’ news attitudes generally, stark partisan differences exist when it comes to made-up news and information, particularly in the area of assessing blame. Differences also emerge based on political awareness and age. In general, Republicans, the highly politically aware and older Americans express higher levels of concern about the impact of made-up news than their counterparts.
The public singles out two groups of people as the primary sources of made-up news: political leaders and activist groups. Close to six-in-ten U.S. adults (57%) say political leaders and their staff create a lot of made-up news, and about half (53%) say the same thing of activist groups.
About a third feel journalists (36%) or foreign actors (35%) create a lot, while about a quarter (26%) put the blame on the public.
Even though Americans do not see journalists as a leading contributor of made-up news and information, 53% think they have the greatest responsibility to reduce it – far more than those who say the onus mostly falls on the government (12%) or technology companies (9%).
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.
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%).
Most of this study focuses specifically on made-up news and information that is intended to mislead the public. But it also examines some other potentially inaccurate or misleading types of information.
Americans make clear distinctions among five kinds of misinformation asked about in this survey, expressing the greatest concern about fully made-up news as well as altered videos and images. Two-thirds (67%) say that made-up news designed to mislead causes a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues, while 63% feel the same way about a video that is altered or made up. And by large majorities, 79% and 77% respectively, they favor restrictions on these kinds of content.
[Editor’s Note: A number of graphics accompany the original story.]