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Pew Survey: Americans Grapple with Recognizing Facts in News Stories


A journalism professor leads a class discussion talking about fake news at Kean University in Union, N.J., Jan. 20, 2017. A study released Monday shows many U.S. adults could not consistently differentiate between factual information and opinion statements.

Only a quarter of U.S. adults in a recent survey could fully identify factual statements — as opposed to opinion — in news stories, the Pew Research Center found in a study released Monday.

The survey comes amid growing concerns about so-called fake news spread on the internet and social media. The term generally refers to fabricated news that has no basis in fact but is presented as being factually accurate.

Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc's Google and other tech companies have recently come under scrutiny for failing to promptly tackle the problem of fake news as more Americans consume news on social media platforms.

The main portion of Pew's survey polled 5,035 adult Americans aged 18 and above in February and March. The study was intended to determine if respondents could differentiate between factual information and opinion statements in news stories.

Participants were given five factual statements such as "spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid make up the largest portion of the U.S. federal budget," and five opinion statements such as "democracy is the greatest form of government." They were asked to identify which ones were factual and which were opinions.

Only 26 percent were able to correctly identify all five factual statements. On opinions, about 35 percent were able to correctly identify all five statements. Roughly a quarter got most or all wrong in identifying facts and opinions, the research showed.

The study found that participants' ability to classify statements as factual or opinion varied widely based on their political awareness, trust in the news media, and "digital savviness" or degree to which they are confident in using digital devices and the internet.

"There is a striking difference in certain Americans in distinguishing what are factual statements and what are not and that depends on one's level of digital savviness, political savviness," Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, said in an interview.

The study also found that when Americans call a statement "factual" they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate. They tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions, Pew said.

The research showed Republicans and Democrats were also more likely to think news statements are factual when the statements appeal to their side, even if the statements were opinions.

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