A survey conducted exclusively for BuzzFeed News found that “fake news headlines fool American adults about 75% of the time.”
The problem of fake news was a major factor in the 2016 presidential election. Fake right-wing news sites, sometimes presented as legitimate news outlets, flooded social media with false and misleading articles that outperformed actual news during the election.
BuzzFeed reported on December 6 that their survey was the “first large-scale public opinion research study into the fake news phenomenon.” Their results revealed that a majority of American adults can be fooled by fake news headlines “about 75% of the time,” in part because evaluating headlines is difficult “without context on social media platforms.” The survey further “call[ed] into question” Facebook’s defense that “consumers themselves” can distinguish between real and fake news, because the survey “suggest[ed] that consumers are likely to believe even false stories that don’t fit their ideological bias”:
Fake news headlines fool American adults about 75% of the time, according to a large-scale new survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.
The survey also found that people who cite Facebook as a major source of news are more likely to view fake news headlines as accurate than those who rely less on the platform for news.
This survey is the first large-scale public opinion research study into the fake news phenomenon that has had a sweeping effect on global politics, and that recently caused a gunman to threaten a DC pizza place. The results paint a picture of news consumers with little ability to evaluate the headlines that often fly toward them without context on social media platforms. They also — surprisingly — suggest that consumers are likely to believe even false stories that don’t fit their ideological bias. And the survey calls into question the notion — which Facebook has reportedly begun testing — that consumers themselves can do the work of distinguishing between real and fake news.
The new data comes from an online survey of 3,015 US adults conducted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. For more on the methodology, see the bottom of this article. A detailed summary of results to all questions can be found here. Additional calculations can be found here.
“The 2016 election may mark the point in modern political history when information and disinformation became a dominant electoral currency,” said Chris Jackson of Ipsos Public Affairs, which conducted the survey on behalf of BuzzFeed News. “Public opinion, as reflected in this survey, showed that ‘fake news’ was remembered by a significant portion of the electorate and those stories were seen as credible.”
The survey found that those who identify as Republican are more likely to view fake election news stories as very or somewhat accurate. Roughly 84% of the time, Republicans rated fake news headlines as accurate (among those they recognized), compared to a rate of 71% among Democrats. The survey also found that Trump voters are more likely to rate familiar fake news headlines as accurate than Clinton voters.