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A survey shows how people trust the news

Survey shows lack of trust in news on social media and in journalism

Trust in news on social media, search engines, and messaging apps is consistently lower than trust in information in the news media more generally, a survey from the Reuters Institute shows. Trust in journalists is also low. As many as half of respondents say they believe journalists try to manipulate audience to serve powerful politicians or care more about getting attention than reporting the facts.

The survey is a part of the Institute’s project about Trust in Media. It covers four countries: Brazil, India, the UK, and the US. The report examines the relationship between trust in news and how people think about news on digital platforms, especially Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and YouTube.

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Key findings:

  • Levels of trust in news on social media, search engines, and messaging apps is consistently lower than audience trust in information in the news media more generally. There are gaps in trust for most platforms in all four countries, with news on Google sometimes at parity with news overall but news on other platforms typically viewed more sceptically. 
  • A considerable portion of this trust gap is explained by lower levels of trust among people who do not use platforms. Many of the same people who lack trust in news encountered via digital media companies – who tend to be older, less educated, and less politically interested – also express less trust in the news regardless of whether found on platforms or through more traditional offline modes.
  • Despite comparatively lower trust in news on platforms, many hold broadly positive feelings towards them, especially Google and YouTube, as well as WhatsApp in Brazil and India. Relatively small numbers of respondents in all four countries expressed negative feelings towards the technology companies. This might indicate that people’s feelings towards platforms are largely unrelated to expectations around what news they may or may not find there.
  • Many of the most common reasons people say they use platforms have little to do with news. For most platforms, people are more likely to say they use them to connect with other people in their lives or for entertainment or to pass the time rather than to find out information about current affairs. The majority in some countries also say they use platforms for commercial purposes (buying or selling products) or for work or school.
  • News about politics is viewed as particularly suspect and platforms are seen by many as contentious places for political conversation – at least for those most interested in politics. Rates of trust in news in general are comparatively higher than trust in news when it pertains to coverage of political affairs. This is particularly pronounced in Brazil, where nearly two-thirds of people also say they feel they have to be careful when talking about politics with friends and acquaintances. This is true both in general as well as while using Facebook or WhatsApp. As many as 20–30% of the most politically interested people in all four countries say they have stopped talking to someone on these platforms due to disagreements about politics.
  • Negative perceptions about journalism are widespread and social media is one of the most often-cited places people say they see or hear criticism of news and journalism. As many as half the respondents in all four countries say they believe journalists try to manipulate audiences to serve the agendas of powerful politicians or care more about getting attention than reporting the facts. Those who use platforms are also more likely to say they often encounter criticism of the news media. However, as news is not central to most people’s experience using platforms, rates are not necessarily higher when compared to other sources of criticism about news many say they encounter, including from ordinary people and friends in offline conversations.
  • Misinformation and harassment are among the leading problems many associate with platforms. Despite positive feelings towards most platforms, large majorities in all four countries agree that false and misleading information, harassment, and platforms using data irresponsibly are ‘big problems’ in their country for many platforms. In the US and UK, larger percentages singled out Facebook in particular when it came to these problems, whereas elsewhere broader majorities saw such problems as applicable to all four platforms asked about.
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