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A Real Plague: Weber Study Finds 82 Percent of Americans Express Concern About the Impact of Fake News

Fake News US Concept: Newspaper Front Page, 3d illustration on wood71% of American Public Says Fake News Contributes to Incivility, Study Reveals

Fake news has morphed into a huge problem for the media, along with stakeholders at the targets of fake news, and new research confirms that the proliferation of fake news is also weighing heavily on the minds of Americans overall. The results of a new national poll by Weber Shandwick, public affairs firm Powell Tate and KRC Research show that more than eight in 10 Americans (82 percent) are concerned about the impact fake news might have on the credibility of the news and information they receive from the media—and this high level of concern is common to both political parties, both genders and increases with age.

Three quarters of Americans (75 percent) acknowledge that it is difficult to determine what news is accurate and what is not, and seven in 10 (70 percent) believe that they have read a fake news story. Perhaps most troubling, however, is the finding that a large 71 percent of respondents think that fake news is contributing to incivility in society. Americans possibly believe that fake news stirs up emotions such as anger, confusion, anxiety and disengagement, all leading to greater incivility and polarization. With 69 percent of Americans believing that our country has a major civility problem, the spread of fake news has alarming consequences. More than half of Americans (58 percent) believe the level of civility in our nation could be improved if social media sites and search engines curbed fake news.

“People depend upon the truth to understand the world around them. Our research reveals that Americans are experiencing considerable doubt and confusion over what they are being told, what they are hearing and what they are reading,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist of Weber Shandwick, in a news release. “The marketing and communications industry has an important role in facilitating solutions that advance trustworthy news and information to all Americans and Weber Shandwick is determined to do what we can to help in the fight against false news.”

fake news

Americans blame a combination of sources for the distribution of fake news. When asked to write in who or what they think is primary responsible for the distribution of fake news, Americans most frequently named the media, social media, attention seekers and political entities such as parties and politicians. Democrats and Republicans had similar top sources of blame, though Republicans were twice as likely to name the media. Few Americans see themselves as responsible for the spread of fake news—only nine percent say they have ever shared a fake news story online.

Read the full report here.

A Real Plague: Fake News is a supplementary report to Civility in America: A Nationwide Survey conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate, in partnership with KRC Research. This seventh wave of Civility in America was fielded online from December 9 to 16, 2016, among a sample of 1,126 U.S. adults 18 years and older, drawn from a national consumer panel. The survey included this definition of fake news, presented after asking about awareness of fake news: “Fake news is news that is intentionally written to provide false information to the reader. It is typically distributed online.”

Source: Business Wire; edited by Richard Carufel

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