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Study: Many Americans Think ‘Fake News’ Is a Major Problem

In this Tuesday, April 2, 2019, file photo, a man browses through the Twitter account of Alt News, a fact-checking website.
In this Tuesday, April 2, 2019, file photo, a man browses through the Twitter account of Alt News, a fact-checking website.
Study: Many Americans Think 'Fake News' Is a Major Problem
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In the United States, half of all adults consider ‘fake news’ a major problem, a new study finds. And these Americans mostly blame politicians and activists for the problem.

Researchers questioned over 6,000 Americans about their ideas on fake news stories – those reports and videos created to trick or misinform people. The Pew Research Center released their findings earlier this month.

The study showed that a majority of U.S. adults believe reporters have the responsibility for fixing fake news and reporting the facts. Differences in political ties are a major influence in how adults think about fake news, the report noted.

People who identified themselves as Republican Party members were more likely than Democratic Party members to blame reporters for the problem.

In recent years, Russian agents and others have led misinformation campaigns aimed at weakening democratic systems in the United States and Europe.

This has led to the involvement of politicians, civil-rights activists and technology companies in the question of how to deal with made-up or misleading stories.

The Pew Research Center said that 68 percent of U.S. adults believe fake news affects belief in government institutions. Misinformation was listed more often as a major problem than sexism, racism, illegal immigration or terrorism.

Pew did not try to explain the definition of “made-up news and information.” But some questions in the study defined it as information meant “to mislead the public.”

As for who is to blame for false or misleading stories, those questioned were able to name more than one group as responsible. Fifty seven percent blamed U.S. political leaders and the people who work for them. Fifty three percent said activist groups were responsible. Reporters and foreign actors such as Russia each got the blame from more than a third of those questioned.

Republicans were more likely than Democrats to report seeing made-up news stories and were less likely to believe it could be fixed. Pew noted that Republicans are often more distrustful of the media and more likely to think reporting is one-sided.

The Associated Press, or AP says U.S. President Donald Trump often makes statements that are not always based on fact. Yet he often accuses media businesses of making up news stories he does not like. He has often been critical of the broadcaster CNN and praises Fox News. Earlier this month, he called CNN “fake news” and even suggested a boycott of its parent company, AT&T.

Nina Jankowicz is a researcher at The Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. She told the AP that Trump often sees anything that might by politically damaging to himself as made-up or fake news.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that kind of transferred to his followers as well,” she added.

Republicans take the idea of made-up news to “mean news that is critical of Trump” instead of totally false stories, notes Yochai Benkler. He is a Harvard University Law School professor who wrote a book on misinformation and the media.

Like Trump, nearly 60 percent of Republicans were more likely to blame reporters for fake news, while 20 percent of Democrats felt the same way. Republicans were also far more likely to believe that reporters adding their own opinions into stories was a big problem.

About half of Republicans and Democrats alike said they have unknowingly shared fake news. And about one in 10 said they have shared stories they already knew were untrue.

The U.S. government has pressured Facebook, Google and other technology companies to remove misinformation from their services. But over half of Americans in the study said that reporters have the biggest responsibility to reduce made-up stories.

“It’s surprising that people didn’t think the [technology] sector and the government should be responsible,” Jankowicz said. It is surprising because news reporting has its limits in its ability to prevent the spread of fake news, she added.

“As someone who specializes in … disinformation, I know that fact-checking doesn’t always work,” Jankowicz said. Readers are more likely to remember incorrect information than the correction, she said.

I’m Dorothy Gundy.

And I’m Pete Musto.

Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

agent(s) – n. a person who does business for another person, organization or country

institution(s) – n. a custom, practice, or law that is accepted and used by many people

sexismn. unfair treatment of people because of their sex

racism n. poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race

boycottn. an often organized act of refusal to buy, use, or participate in something as a way of protesting it

transfer(red) – v. to cause something to move from one person, place, or thing to another

sectorn. an area of an economy