95 percent of Americans Say Misinformation Is a Problem, Half Blame the Government

Almost all Americans—95 percent—consider misinformation to be a problem when they're looking to find important information, according to a new poll from the Pearson Institute and Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

About half of Americans say that the U.S. government carries a lot of blame for the growth of misinformation, though the belief varies between Democrats and Republicans.

The survey found that 61 percent of Republicans believe the U.S. government bears a lot of the responsibility for the spread of misinformation, while 38 percent of Democrats say the same, AP reported. The two parties are more aligned when it comes to the role of social media companies in misinformation's circulation, with 79 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of Democrats responding that they believe such companies carry a great deal or quite a bit of the blame for misinformation.

Very few Americans, only two in 10, said that they're very worried that they personally play a role in the spread of misinformation. However, about six in 10 Americans said they are at least somewhat concerned that their friends or family have contributed to the issue, AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Misinformation in America
Nearly all Americans agree that the rampant spread of misinformation is a problem. Most also think individual users, along with social media companies, bear a good deal of blame for the situation. AP Photo

For Carmen Speller, a 33-year-old graduate student in Lexington, Kentucky, the divisions are evident when she's discussing the coronavirus pandemic with close family members. Speller trusts COVID-19 vaccines; her family does not. She believes the misinformation her family has seen on TV or read on questionable news sites has swayed them in their decision to stay unvaccinated against COVID-19.

In fact, some of her family members think she's crazy for trusting the government for information about COVID-19.

"I do feel like they believe I'm misinformed. I'm the one that's blindly following what the government is saying, that's something I hear a lot," Speller said. "It's come to the point where it does create a lot of tension with my family and some of my friends as well."

The rare partisan agreement among Americans about the role of social media in misinformation's spread could spell trouble for tech giants like Facebook, the largest and most profitable of the social media platforms, which is under fire from Republican and Democrat lawmakers alike.

"The AP-NORC poll is bad news for Facebook," said Konstantin Sonin, a professor of public policy at the University of Chicago who is affiliated with the Pearson Institute. "It makes clear that assaulting Facebook is popular by a large margin—even when Congress is split 50-50, and each side has its own reasons."

During a congressional hearing Tuesday, senators vowed to hit Facebook with new regulations after a whistleblower testified that the company's own research shows its algorithms amplify misinformation and content that harms children.

"It has profited off spreading misinformation and disinformation and sowing hate," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said during a meeting of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. Democrats and Republicans ended the hearing with acknowledgement that regulations must be introduced to change the way Facebook amplifies its content and targets users.

The poll also revealed that Americans are willing to blame just about everybody but themselves for spreading misinformation, with 53 percent of them saying they're not concerned that they've spread misinformation.

"We see this a lot of times where people are very worried about misinformation but they think it's something that happens to other people—other people get fooled by it, other people spread it," said Lisa Fazio, a Vanderbilt University psychology professor who studies how false claims spread. "Most people don't recognize their own role in it."

Younger adults tend to be more concerned that they've shared falsehoods, with 25 percent of those ages 18 to 29 very or extremely worried that they have spread misinformation, compared to just 14 percent of adults ages 60 and older. Sixty-three percent of older adults are not concerned, compared with roughly half of other Americans.

Yet it's older adults who should be more worried about spreading misinformation, given that research shows they're more likely to share an article from a false news website, Fazio said.

Before she shares things with family or her friends on Facebook, Speller tries her best to make sure the information she's passing on about important topics like COVID-19 has been peer-reviewed or comes from a credible medical institution. Still, Speller acknowledges there has to have been a time or two that she "liked" or hit "share" on a post that didn't get all the facts quite right.

"I'm sure it has happened," Speller said. "I tend to not share things on social media that I didn't find on verified sites. I'm open to that if someone were to point out, 'Hey this isn't right,' I would think, OK, let me check this."

Americans Agree on Misinformation Threat
Almost all Americans (95 percent) consider the spread of misinformation to be a problem, according to a new poll from the Pearson Institute and Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Richard Drew/Getty Images