Social media news consumers more critical of fake news than traditionalists

24 July 2017 7 min. read
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People who receive news through social media are most critical consumers of information, according to a new study. While 46% of respondents were concerned about the accuracy of news on social media in the era of ‘fake news’, traditional media remained well-trusted, despite a plethora of scandals that have seen the integrity of print and televisual media called into question.

The rise of the fake news phenomenon is often credited with the success of a new wave of hard-right populism that has taken root in global politics, with social media particularly singled out for criticism as a completely unregulated source of information. Fake news generally refers to journalistic stories that confirm false or inaccurate information, intentionally or otherwise – however, it has also been used by political operators, most famously by US President Donald Trump, who while the term came to prominence to describe falsehoods spread by his election campaign, ironically weaponised the term for his own use to discredit the opinions of others.

In an increasingly volatile environment of reporting then, according to the annual KPMG Media Tracker report, media consumers are incredibly wary of the information made available to them through social media. In the wake of the shock UK Brexit vote, alongside with the once-unthinkable Trump victory in the US in 2016, with both attributed in large part to inaccuracies distributed via platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, many internet users have become increasingly critical of what they read, where-ever they read it.

The research, undertaken on KPMG’s behalf by Populus with the support of IHS Markit, surveyed a sample of around 2,000 adults from across the UK on their consumption and attitudes to different media channels. The results showed that the established medium of television remained the single most trusted media source, followed by radio, established newspapers and their web-presences. The analysis also revealed a significant generational rift in which people received their news meanwhile, with television being the most common source of news for older respondents, while those under 35 most often sought out information via social media.

Most critical

Globally, public trust in traditional media as a whole was said to have fallen to an all-time low, according to research presented at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier in 2017. The famous Edelman index reported that for the first time in its history, three-quarters of the 28 countries it surveyed were “distrustful” of government, business and media, which Edelman also credited for the reason people increasingly favour their friends and contacts on the internet as sources of news and truth. However, KPMG’s analysis demonstrates that of all the news media available in the UK found it was actually the non-traditional source of social media that is treated most critically.

Where do you get your news from

KPMG’s researchers suggested that sourcing news from social media feeds was entrenching bias. While only 29% of those polled believed their newsfeed merely confirmed their previous opinions, the firm found that an even slimmer 14% of respondents believed news in their social media feeds challenged their views.

Lack of bias was actually shown as being one of the lowest priorities of news consumers of all kinds, according to another study from consulting firm Deloitte however. Just 12% of those who read newspapers chose to do so for impartiality, while surprisingly a narrowly higher 13% of those leveraged information from Twitter for the same reason.

The potential bias present within consumers newsfeeds meanwhile was also counter-acted to some extent by the level of suspicion such consumers treated that information with. 88% of under 35s and 55% of older respondents sourced news through social media networks in some manner. However, while the medium is regarded as the forefront of bias and of the fake news phenomenon, these receivers were a great deal more critical of the data they received.

Do you generally trust or distrust social media news

While 17% said they would trust social media as a source of reporting, a far larger 46% expressed concern about the accuracy of content they encountered through the medium. 55-64 year olds were ranked as the most suspicious of social media news, followed closely by 52% of those over 65 – however 18-24 year olds, who were among those most likely to access such sources, were the next most sceptical at 46%.


Comparatively, print news-papers, which were read by 42% of under 35s, and 60% of older consumers, boasted a much higher trust rating of 46% to 25%. Readers of publications including the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror – papers which have all been implicated in scandals regarding their accuracy and integrity in recent years – are significantly less critical of their chosen medium.

The Sun infamously was implicated in the cover-up of police culpability in during the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster, while the Daily Mirror’s then-editor Piers Morgan was forced to resign for his paper’s part in the falsification of Iraq war photography in 2004. The Daily Mail meanwhile obtained such a reputation for inaccuracy that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales recently claimed they had “mastered the art” of fake news. All three papers were also implicated in a phone-hacking scandal in 2011, which led to the famous Leveson Inquiry.

Television meanwhile remained the format with the most trusting consumer base – with 65% having faith in the format contrasting with a sparse 13% sceptical of reports from TV broadcasters. This comes after research into alleged bias of televisual news coverage from the Media Reform Coalition and Birkbeck University of London, which found broadcast news gave double the airtime to critics of parliamentary opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn than those supportive of him.

Which of the following news sources do you generally trust or distrust

Across 10 days, the study analysed 40 prime time news bulletins from the BBC and ITV. Despite the industry being bound by strict impartiality rules, the BBC was especially criticised in the study, which found reporters in its main evening broadcasts used more “pejorative language” to describe Corbyn and his supporters. A similar study directed by the London School of Economics’ Dr Bart Cammaerts meanwhile contended 75% of press coverage “misrepresented” the politician.

With falling advertising revenues seeing established news outlets, particularly in print media, anxious to do anything to boost profits, the study concluded that to stay relevant, these mediums must adapt practices to counteract the speed of output from social media with controlled quality and expertise that will engage a new generation.

Commenting on the report’s findings, David Elms, UK Head of Media at KPMG, encouraged old media players to look at the challenge by social media as an opportunity, stating, “There is an opportunity for media companies to differentiate their brand by building and ensuring trust at both a consumer and corporate level. Quality, and trust in that quality, is a value differentiator for many established media companies. The appetite for quality news is strong, but the right balance of quality and a price point that’s attractive to consumers hasn’t yet been found. As such, media businesses need to continue innovating.”