A new study finds that online misinformation, known as fake news, lowers people’s trust in the mainstream media.

This holds true across all party lines, according to the study.

Led by researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey, the study defined fake news as fabricated information that looks like a news story, but lacks the editorial standards and practices of legitimate journalism.

In contrast to the negative relationship between fake news and a trust in media, the study alsofound that consuming fake news increased political trust, especially in Congress and the justice system.

Fake news consumption was associated with a 4 percent increase in overall political trust and an 8 percent increase for trust in Congress, according to the study’s findings.

While the overall association between fake news and political trust was positive, there are differences among political parties, the researchers point out.

Strong liberals trusted the government less after reading or watching fake news, while moderates and conservatives trusted it more, the study found.

“Strong liberals exposed to right-leaning misinformation may be most likely to reject its claims and mistrust the current Republican government,” said lead author Dr. Katherine Ognyanova, an assistant professor of communication at Rutgers University-New Brunswick’s School of Communication and Information. “In contrast, moderate or conservative respondents may take that misinformation at face value and increase their confidence in the current political institutions.”

Attitudes towards the media and the federal government affect how people find and evaluate information, who they believe, how they act during demanding circumstances, and how they participate in the political process, the researchers said.

Researchers add the findings emphasize the critical importance of technological, social, and regulatory efforts to curb the spread of fake news.

“It has become clear that none of the stakeholders — audience members, technological companies, media, fact-checking organizations, or regulators — can tackle this problem on their own,” said Ognyanova. “Platforms should work hand in hand with media and users to implement solutions that increase the social costs of spreading false stories. Regulators can help increase the transparency that is required in the process.”

For the study, the researchers collected data from 3,000 Americans who participated in two survey waves in October and November of 2018, shortly before and after the U.S. midterm elections.

The researchers also used new methodology that involved having people install a browser add-on that tracks what they read on the Internet between the surveys. About 8 percent (227) of the respondents agreed to install the browser. That browsing history was used to evaluate their exposure to fake news sources and assess whether consuming misinformation was linked to changes in trust, the researchers explained.

“The time period we collected the digital data was characterized by considerable public attention to political news and events in the United States,” said Ognyanova. “On Nov. 6, 2018, many states had their first major election since Donald Trump was voted into office. In the weeks following the election, both the public and the media were focused on the results and their implications for American political life. The increased attention to political events at that time would likely strengthen the effects of exposure to mainstream and fake news content.”

The study, published in Misinformation Review, was co-authored by Drs. David Lazer and Christo Wilson, and doctoral student Ronald E. Roberston, all of Northeastern University in Boston.

Source: Rutgers University