Millennials Unplugged: The Road From Fake to Real News

Fake news is not a new topic.  It’s been around since the beginning of time.   What is new are our media habits, which make us more susceptible to bias and fake content.

In today’s world, we have so many choices on where we consume our news that we do not have the controls we once had for journalism to thrive.  When Bob grew up, you listened to the networks, the local and national newspapers and they told you what was important.  Those articles were written by career journalists.  Now, as Brittany grows up, millennials get their “news” from a far wider variety of channels, often from secondary sources.

So we asked 22 millennials to give us perspective on what is really happening.   In addition to asking questions about fake news, we also provided 10 headlines for review just to show how hard it really is to decipher what is true or false.  We just wanted to get their perspective on what they are seeing and observing.

Here are our key insights:

Fake news is an everyday issue – the belief is that we are encountering fake news every day and it may be impacting how we think.  2/3 of our audience believe they see fake news every day and 1/3 are not sure.  All that really matters is our perception that it may be happening.

Facebook & Twitter are becoming “News Replacers” – Facebook and Twitter are the two go to’s for news for millennials.  Yes, they check in with mainstream news outlets, but social channels are filling the void and we have a tendency to believe what we read in the channels we visit most often.

Plausibility is a Problem – the definition of plausible is that it “describes that which has the appearance of truth, but might be deceptive”   What we’re hearing is that if you see enough of something, you become unsure – if you keep hearing about a topic, you wonder if it is fake?  Or is it being pushed by people with a heavy bias that is mostly truthful, but not 100%?  Or is it real?  For most topics, we don’t pay enough attention, yet we hear about the topic on a regular basis.  Frequency builds familiarity and with time, some ideas start to seem plausible.

We fill in our knowledge gaps ourselves – if we don’t know for sure, our biases and preconceived notions kick in to help us make our decisions.  We just aren’t often that aware of our own biases.

The lack of journalistic standards in social media is leading to increasing acceptance and/or ignorance of what real news is – if you don’t realize what the standards should be, like ensuring you have two sources that are fact-checked, you don’t realize what you are missing.  We need more education on what the journalistic gold standard means!

Bias can be confused with fake news — 59% say fake news shows an extreme bias on a topic.  This is not a definition of fake, of course.  But what it shows is that with journalists often not being the primary source for news, we are starting to trust and believe anybody who writes/posts online and we are seeing a rise in experts on social media who are highly biased in their views

We often just aren’t sure what we read – one of our headlines we asked about was “Florida Democrats Just Voted to Impose Sharia Law on Women”.  Most people said this didn’t happen, but not everyone was sure. The story is definitely false, but there were bloggers out there trying to say it did happen.  So depending on your informal news sources, you may believe what was clearly false, might be plausible.

Fake news triggers our biases faster – if we already believe a certain way, we are more likely to be accepting of fake news, even if we know this particular article may not be accurate.  Basically, our biases can grow via fake news, which is not a good thing for future rational discussion.  This happens more and more as we narrowcast how we learn, e.g. only going to certain channels to talk with the same group of people and accepting what they say as the truth.

One of our favorite fake news headlines — was “Florida man dies in meth-lab explosion after lighting farts on fire” – most of those we surveyed thought it was false but it could have happened.  We agree…it’s absurd, but it is also so odd you think “well, maybe?”..although it would never have happened to Walter White….Jesse possibly….

Our key insight applies to millennials, boomers and everyone in between.  We need to put more emphasis on journalistic standards for news in social channels and we need to educate our peers on what real news looks like.

Real news trumps fake news… long as we know what to look for.   It’s going to be up to all of us to do a better job on education and even embracing standards in the wild west of social media news.

 Enjoy, Brittany (millennial) and Bob (boomer)

Bob Pearson
Bob Pearson

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