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Fake news trips up Americans in new study

Fake news was a big issue in the past presidential election, with accusations flying of attempts to influence voting by using made-up news items. The ongoing Russian investigation and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before Congress will tell you how seriously people are taking it.

In fact, there may be a backlash against social media outlets as fewer people appear to be depending upon them for news.

But what seems to drive the effectiveness of fake news is the American public’s inability to tell real news from opinion dressed up as news. Pew Research Center decided to look at the phenomenon and made some interesting discoveries.

Who believes in fake news?

In the survey, 5,035 American adults were given a selection of statements and asked to determine whether they were factual or opinion. Americans identified more statements correctly than incorrectly, but sizable portions got most wrong.

What determined their ability to correctly identify the statements? Apparently the more politically aware, digitally savvy or trusting of the news media a respondent was, the better they did.

Also, Republicans and Democrats were more likely to classify a statement as factual if they believed in it, whether it was true or an opinion.

Fact or opinion?

Here are some of the statements given in the survey:

  1. “Spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget.”
  2. “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient.”
  3. “Health care costs per person in the U.S. are the highest in the developed world.”
  4. “Immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally have some rights under the Constitution.”
  5. “Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is essential for the health of the U.S. economy.”

The second and fifth statements are opinion, and the rest are fact. As might be expected, more Republicans took the statement “Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient” as fact. More Democrats said, “Increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour is essential for the health of the U.S. economy” was a fact.

For more on the survey, visit the Pew Research Center for Journalism & Media.

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