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The Effect of News Consumption on Fake News Efficacy

The concept of “fake news” came to light during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Since that time, claims of fake news, defined as “fabricated news content that mimics news media content in form but is intentionally and verifiably false with the potential to mislead its audience,” has infiltrated the national consciousness and rhetoric. The widespread use of the term fake news as well as the fear of it have caused a distrust with American media. This distrust has lead to an all-time low of confidence in the credibility of the news media as a whole.

As recently as 2018, one study determined that Americans struggle to distinguish between fact and opinion when presented as news. In another study, as many as three in every four Americans were shown to believe that traditional news sources report fake news. The increasingly ubiquitous use of social media has accelerated this trend.

University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Telecommunication Professor Sylvia Chan-Olmsted and doctoral student Yufan “Sunny” Qin wanted to understand how an individual’s news sources and news consumption may affect their perceived ability to differentiate what news is real and what news is fake.

The researchers found that:

  • Prior exposure to fake news increases perceptions of its accuracy; there is no relationship between more fake news encounters and more negative perception of its effects.
  • Social media is a catalyst for exposure to fake news, likely due to the wide reach and easy accessibility of social media, as well as to the lack of professional or journalistic standards across social media channels. However, those who frequently use social media as news sources believe they are more capable of differentiating fake news from the real ones.
  • Whether or not a media consumer is seeking informational versus entertaining content is key. Those seeking the former tend to be more mindful about the quality and credibility of news content overall. Those seeking the latter tend to be more likely to find a blurred line between news and fake news.
  • Of particular concern is that because fake news is becoming an increasingly common issue on social media, many social media users are largely desensitized by its presence, thus diminishing its perceived negative effects.
  • There are various motivators of news consumption. Those who are driven more by personal status (e.g., seeing themselves as having higher news literacy) and entertainment (e.g., seeking amusement) have less negative perceptions of fake news.

The findings ultimately conclude that one cannot simply focus on eliminating misinformation because the perceptions of fake news are multifaceted.  Ultimately, consumers’ previous experiences and motives for seeking news and information are connected with their self-efficacy — their perceived capabilities to be able to distinguish between real and fake news. Different news sources, such as the mainstream media and social media, create diverse effects on fake news self-efficacy. Motivations for consuming news would also make a difference.

This study examined the relationship, but not the causality, between fake news and self-efficacy. Future studies could address variables between them, as well as offer deeper insights by examining specific social and mainstream news sources and news topic preferences. Future studies may also focus more on differentiating between age and gender as those are factors that can affect fake news self-efficacy.

The original research paper, “The Effect of News Consumption on Fake News Efficacy,” appeared online in the Journal of Applied Journalism & Media Studies on Oct. 29, 2020.

 Authors: Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, Yufan Sunny Qin.

This summary was written by Marie Morganelli, Ph.D.

Posted: December 22, 2020
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