Dissemination and consumptionIdentifying fake news is made more difficult by the fact that it is rapidly becoming an industry of its own, with individuals paid to write sensationalist stories and create clickbait content to increase site traffic. Misinformation (misleading information presented as fact) and disinformation (intentionally false information) can be made to look legitimate and can easily reach thousands of users in a matter of minutes.
When it comes to the spread of fake news, social media is the main culprit. Although social media has been the least trusted news source globally since 2016, a study revealed that that over 50 percent of responding internet users in 24 different countries use social networks as a way to keep up to date. At the same time, social media is also used for verifying the accuracy of online news. Although not the most effective way to check the legitimacy of a news article, some consumers admit that they look at how many other people have shared or liked a story on social media to determine whether or not the content is reliable.
Fake news and COVID-19Younger consumers are often at greater risk of exposure to fake news than older generations by sheer virtue of their higher social media usage. This issue was highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic, and a clear example of the extent of the problem can be seen in data on news consumption in Europe during the outbreak.
A separate global survey revealed that although most Gen Z and Millennial news consumers ignored or reported fake news about COVID-19, some chose to share the content they encountered. Either knowingly or unknowingly, many consumers see fake news and pass it on to someone else, putting even the savviest news audiences at risk.
Unfortunately, fake news has no ‘quick fix’ and developing an awareness of it and improving one’s ability to identify false information is a must for regular news consumers. By reporting suspicious content, only using reputable news sources, and making an effort to fact-check information, every individual can in a small way work towards achieving a safer news environment.