Fake news and real people

The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism held focus group discussions in Finland, Spain, the UK and the US. Here's what people said about fake news - and more.

Fake news is the ‘word’ of the year in the UK. It’s been used in speeches by the leaders of the UK’s two major political parties and will probably feature in words of the year in other country lists too.

But how do ‘real people’ view fake news?  Based on the findings of a series of focus groups, The RISJ found that fake news is considered misinformation from a range of sources and that the term is weaponised by those seeking to curb news media and platforms.

Key findings

People see the difference between fake news and real news as one of degree

  • Fake news is a ‘spectrum’ and some participants question whether a news organisation can ever be completely neutral. 
  • They counter fake news by using source cues (brands they trust) and social cues (people they trust) to verify information.

People see poor journalism, some advertising and political propaganda as sources of fake news 

  • Poor journalism is associated with sensationalised or unreliable reporting
  • Sponsored content poses as news on many sites

Publishers and politicians are associated with fake news

  • Social media seen as a tool to spread fake news
  • While some platforms and publishers are associated with the fake, several publishers are named as trustworthy counterbalances to the fake

The report suggests that for participants, fake news is part of a bigger problem that manifests in discontent with politicians, advertising as well as the news media. There is no easy divide between ‘truth’ and ‘falsehood’ but most people have identified news outlets that they trust to help them identify misinformation.

The report can be downloaded here.