The Yougov poll was carried out over a two-day period from a sample of 1,684 UK adults weighted to be representative by age, gender, education qualification, social grade, as well as the 2015 election vote, EU referendum vote, government office region and political attention.
When those surveyed were shown six individual news stories, three of which were true and three of which were fake, only 4% were able to identify them all correctly. Nearly five in ten (49 per cent) of all respondents thought at least one of the fake stories was true.
Half of those confident they could tell the difference between a fake news story and a real news story were stumped by at least one of the fake news stories shown.
The study also finds that the social media ‘echo chamber’ has made it harder for the public to distinguish the truth from fiction. Of those that stated Facebook as their primary source of news, almost three quarters (71%) thought at least one of the fake stories was true whereas only half (47%) of those who primarily get their news from broadcasters thought this.
That said, two thirds of the British public (66%) think social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter aren’t doing enough to tackle fake news, with half of respondents believing that more fact-checking sites are needed.
Interestingly, over half (55%) of respondents think the government is not doing enough to tackle fake news, suggesting the issue is now on the public’s national agenda. The Government has privately assembled UK newspapers to come up with a way to counter the rise of fake news, but has made no public statements on its efforts, except a promise from culture secretary Matt Hancock that the matter was being considered.
There is reason to be positive still. According to the study, only 6% cited Facebook as their primary source of news, and only 2% cited Twitter. By comparison, over half (53%) of people said broadcast news (TV/Radio/Online) was their primary source of news, while newspapers was at 17%.
While Facebook still claims to be a curator of news instead of a traditional media company, this could be set to change in 2017 as it blurs the lines between tech and media owner, bringing with it the responsibility to control what is published on its platform.
It’s a twist in the knife for broadcasters and publishers, the original arbiters of truth, whose content is seemingly less discernible than that on fake news sites as the majority of the population finds it increasingly hard to verify authenticity.