People are much less likely to trust news they see on social media, search engines, and messaging apps than news in general, according to a new study. The trust gap is however, smaller for news seen on Google.
Negative perceptions of journalists are also widespread.
The findings, published on Thursday in the report “The trust gap: how and why news on digital platforms is viewed more sceptically versus news in general”, are the latest in a long-running project from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism looking at trust in news.
A survey of 2,000 people each in the UK, the US, Brazil and India asked a series of questions designed to examine the relationship between trust in news and how people think about news on digital platforms.
Overall, the Oxford-based Reuters Institute has recorded a decline in trust in news in recent years earlier this year finding that nearly half (46%) of all British people often avoid reading the news, partly due to falling trust.
While how people think about the information they see depends on the platform, the country and the audience demographic, there was a consistent “trust gap” in the four countries studied in this survey.
In the UK there was little difference in the level of trust in news overall and the level of trust in news on Google with 52% of people saying they trusted news they saw on the Alphabet-owned platform, versus 53% who said they trusted news overall. After Google there is a dip – the next most-trusted platform for news is Youtube on 33%.
By contrast Facebook was among the least-trusted platforms in the UK with just 27% of respondents saying they had faith in the news they saw on there, with the same percentage for Twitter. Tiktok (20%) and Instagram (24%) were at the bottom of the ranking.
In the US, Google was more trusted than news in general – 53% versus 49%. Otherwise the trend was similar to the UK, although Whatsapp was the joint least trusted with Tiktok among Americans.
The people that tend not to use platforms to get news – including older, less educated and less politically-interested audiences – trust them the least, the research found.
The survey also revealed large differences in trust towards news on platforms by age. In the UK, at least 40% of people aged under 35 said they trust Instagram and Tiktok for news compared to 6% of people aged over 55 who said they trusted Instagram and 3% of the same age group who said they trusted Tiktok.
The research also found a link between trust in news in general and trust in news on platforms.
"There is an overlap around disconnection from news in general and on platforms. Groups that are already more trusting in news in general also tend to be more trusting of news on platforms. This poses challenges for news organisations to engage with less trusting people since their disconnection persists across different media environments," said the report’s lead author Dr Camila Mont'Alverne.
Last year, through a series of focus groups with journalists and publishers, the Reuters Institute found that many in the industry are worried that digital platforms are contributing to declining levels of trust in news around the world. This finding is reinforced through this latest research with audiences.
Audiences are particularly mistrustful of news about politics, particularly in Brazil.
In the UK, while over half of people trust news in general, just 45% trust news about politics. There are also differences by political orientation. A larger share of people who hold a favourable opinion of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson trust news on all platforms. This may reflect how people who support political leaders in the UK are more trusting across the board, said the researchers.
Survey respondents also reported that negative criticisms of journalism are widespread.
Over half (51%) of respondents in the UK said they felt journalists are more concerned with getting attention than reporting facts, while 50% said they believe journalists manipulate the public to serve political agendas.
Under 40% agreed that journalists independently verify information they report or try to keep their opinions from slanting the news.
The research also found that people commonly ranked misinformation and harassment among the main problems with getting news from digital platforms. UK and US respondents singled out Facebook as particularly problematic in this regard with 63% of people in the UK saying that false or misleading information was a big problem on the Meta-owned platform.
Despite most people's mistrust towards news on platforms, overall respondents had positive feelings towards most social media, search engines, and messaging apps.
The report said this was partly explained by the fact that, with the exception of Google, most people use most platforms for entertainment and for connecting with people, rather than news or information. Facebook earlier this year moved away from its Facebook News initiative, and stated it would prioritise posts by friends and family and content from "creators" in users' newsfeeds.
When it comes to what should be done to better differentiate between trustworthy and untrustworthy news on platforms, responses varied by country and age. In the UK older respondents were more likely to place the responsibility on tech companies, the news media, and the government. Younger respondents were more likely to agree that it was up to individuals.
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