New Analysis Finds Americans' Engagement With Suspect News Sources on the Rise

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A Pew Research Center survey from June 2019 detailed how the proliferation of untrustworthy news online has impacted Americans’ confidence in the news media writ large. Dan Kitwood/Getty

Engagement with unreliable or dubious news on social media increased substantially towards the end of 2019, according to the company NewsGuard, which evaluates the transparency of news organizations.

In its latest Misinformation Monitor report covering the month of December, NewsGuard found that nearly 9.5 percent of all U.S. engagement with news platforms operating on social media involved sources in the company's 'red' category.

NewsGuard reserves this designation for a site that "generally fails to meet basic standards of credibility and transparency." This constitutes an increase of 20 percent over November.

Americans were also more likely to engage with dubious sources on social media—which includes Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest—than residents of other countries. Engagement with 'red' sources on social media, among all countries measured, stood at just 7.51 percent of overall engagement.

British residents were the least likely to engage with suspect sources, the analysis found. Engagement was defined as contributing comments, likes and shares to a social media platform.

While Americans increasingly interacted with unreliable sources, residents of Germany and France actually decreased their engagement with these sites from November to December.

NewsGuard's report also highlights the extent to which sites spreading misinformation have been able to magnify their reach.

One site propagating false health information "to advance an anti-abortion perspective" earned more engagement than did the Chicago Tribune, the Detroit Free Press and the Dallas Morning News.

A Pew Research Center survey from June 2019 detailed how the proliferation of untrustworthy news has impacted Americans' confidence in the news media writ large.

More Americans in the survey reported seeing misinformation as a bigger problem than violent crime, climate change, racism and terrorism.

In addition, 68 percent of Americans said it impacted their confidence in the government. Fifty-one percent of Americans said it impacted their confidence in each other.

Even though Americans appear increasingly willing to engage with suspect sources, as NewsGuard's survey has shown, the Pew report found that an overwhelming majority—79 percent—wants steps to be taken to restrict made-up news.

In the report, Americans largely indicated that they do not feel tech companies bear much of the burden for rectifying the misinformation crisis. Only 9 percent of respondents laid the responsibility at the feet of tech companies, which operate social media platforms that have served as a breeding ground for fake and low-information news.

On the other hand, 53 percent of respondents selected the news media as having the primary responsibility to reduce the spread of fake news. Americans overwhelmingly reported political leaders and activist groups as being the perceived sources of fake news.