90% of Canadians are aware of "fake news" but can't agree on meaning

By Rahul Sethi

As appearing on the INMA blog on November 12, 2019.

There is indeed a scarcity in trust with the proliferation of ‘fake news’ online. While ‘fake news’ is not a new phenomenon, present occurrences spread rapidly via social media platforms. The worldwide impact that such ‘fake news’ continues to have on elections and referendums consistently demonstrates cause for concern.

What is ‘Fake News’?

9 out of 10 Canadian adults are aware of the term ‘fake news’, but the term seems to mean several things to Canadians. The top perceived meaning of ‘fake news’ is “a story that has been deliberately fabricated by a mainstream news organization”, followed by, “a story put out by someone pretending to be a news organization”. Whatever 'fake news’ may mean to Canadians, a vast majority do believe that credible news sources matter.

Attitudes Towards News

81% of news audiences believe that accuracy in journalism is key to a healthy democracy. However, a lesser 62% trust that what they read is true and not ‘fake news’ most of the time.

News is under more scrutiny than ever. External, partisan influence on the news is a concern for most. A majority of news audiences are worried that news media is failing to hold politicians and business leaders accountable for certain actions, and a minority believe that Canadian news media is truly unbiased and free from political influence most of the time.

For news organizations that stress accurate, quality journalism, editorial integrity, and free themselves from government or corporate pressures, strategies that leverage these attributes to encourage audience growth and engagement are increasingly important.

Sensitivity to ‘Fake News’:

With its effect on trust, ‘fake news’ has created a propensity among news audiences to verify facts in one media source with another. 79% of news audiences agree that they question and verify, elsewhere, facts in a news story they have seen. This verification of facts is likely what has led many to use multiple sources for news, and to 1 in 4 using a greater number of news sources now in comparison to 12 months ago.

News audiences are personally empowered to combat ‘fake news’, because they have to be. Only 6% of news audiences have noticed Google or Facebook (the largest digital media companies) taking steps to help identify ‘fake news’. This has led a majority of news audiences, 66%, to think twice about sharing news stories online after just reading a headline and not the complete content.

Effective Ways to Tackle ‘Fake News’:

Half of Canada’s news audience believes it is the responsibility of individuals to tackle ‘fake news’ through choosing credible news sources. 45% call for tougher regulations.

News audiences also see the potential for technology to help them make the right choice for news to trust. Nearly a third believe that alerts next to ‘fake news’ stories are an effective way to tackle ‘fake news’. They also believe that as equally effective as alerts are fact checking bots or teams of human moderators. Pragmatically, bots and/or human moderators could generate such alerts.

What’s clear is that audiences realize that they play a part in stemming the spread of ‘fake news’. This further presents an opportunity for traditional, established news brands to assert the quality and credibility of their journalism, and their deep history and commitment to reporting the news accurately. There is also an opportunity for news brands to build a greater sense of a community with a shared goal, to stop the spread of ‘fake news’ with news brands leading the charge!


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