LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most people don’t trust the mainstream media and are even more suspicious of social media, a survey revealed on Thursday, though it said social networks were vital for under-reported stories such as LGBT and migrant issues.
The latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found high scepticism about news and comment, with 33 percent of more than 70,000 consumers polled in 36 countries saying they can’t rely on the news to be true.
Only 24 percent of people said social media did a good job separating fact from fiction, compared to 40 percent for mainstream media.
In countries like the United States and Britain, people were twice as likely to have faith in the news media to weed out fake news. Greece was the only country where people said social media was better at dividing truth from fantasy.
“Although mainstream media is not trusted, it is still trusted twice as much for separating fact from fiction as social media,” Nic Newman, lead author of the sixth annual Digital News Report, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Fake news could be the best thing that has happened to journalism in a long while. It’s an opportunity to re-establish the value of mainstream brands and focus on quality.”
Newman said this has led to a hike in digital subscriptions to news organizations in the United States, with 16 percent now prepared to pay for news compared to 9 percent, and evidence that more people might be prepared to pay elsewhere.
Despite a commonly held view that younger consumers would not pay online, the annual study that examines global news consumption found people under 35 were willing to pay for quality news, just as they did for music and video services.
The online survey, by pollster YouGov, was the first time the Reuters Institute has looked at the response to the quality of information on social media, with 54 percent of consumers now using social media for news.
The Reuters Institute, which is funded by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has looked previously at overall levels of trust in the media, finding a strong connection between distrust in the media and perceived media bias.
This was strongest in nations with high levels of political polarization like the United States, Hungary and Italy. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the established news media for peddling “fake news” and gained traction during the election campaign by complaining of unfair media coverage.
“But in the United States, trust in the media has increased a bit in the past year partly because a lot of the mistrust came from people on the right, Trump supporters,” said Newman.
“While in the UK, trust in the media fell due to a sense the right-wing press was pushing a pro-Brexit agenda.”
Newman said social networks were not going away, even though users are moving more to messaging apps for news, frustrated by the level of debate on networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
“It is very popular to criticize social media but it is very good for incidental news and especially in countries where the media is controlled by the government,” he said.
“It exposes people to a far greater range of views and issues such as during the migrant crisis when people were reporting directly from camps ... or on LGBT issues.”
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org