The trust in news in our new digital age

Unfortunately, the trust in news and the people who provide it to us is declining. The skepticism around what’s fact and fiction has always existed in the media world, and the new readily available digital storytelling techniques have only extended on this.

A study carried out by OFCOM in 2016 states that TV is still the most-used platform in terms of news consumption, with 69% of those surveyed saying they use it as their main news source. However, younger people are more likely to use the internet, as the study proved. 63% of the 16-34-year old’s surveyed use it as their main source of news. This is where the problem starts, as news is harder to monitor online and some news is sent out to the public with the aim of being false and misleading.

The fake news sites that are enticing people into reading their posts are providing news that they know will reach a vast audience, as well as being believable. There are different factors behind why someone may choose to spread a news story – every click on the site and every advertisement branded on there will result in revenue for the site owner. There can also be a political agenda behind the spread of misinformation which can result in influencing the views of voters and influencers who believe the fake news about potential candidates. For example, in the last three months of the US 2016 presidential election, there was more incorrect news than real news on Facebook.

Even on our doorsteps, we are feeling the effects of political stories becoming contaminated by the untrue.  In the most recent General Election, the top three candidates and their parties (Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem) created newspaper lookalikes, thought to be designed with the hope of people thinking they were real. Political news stories are just that – news. This means it is based around things people didn’t know before reading the story, so usually they would have no reason to argue or be skeptical. Therefore, a fake news story or two in-between the vast communication happening around the election wouldn’t look suspicious.  

Above shows an example of the propaganda that appeared in the letterboxes of unsuspecting voters, displaying its’ self as a local newspaper. The ‘Daily Press’ circulating in London featured stories unrelated to politics, as well as a huge headline reading “LOCAL POLL: 90% SUPPORT REMAIN”.

At first glance, this could appear as a verified newspaper created by the unbiased media. It was also feared that the elderly and vulnerable could be most influenced by these methods. This is just one example of these papers that were doing the rounds during the local election. These damaging campaigning methods have been shunned on and proven to reduce the trust in news as we know it.

Local journalist and breaking news reporter for Gloucestershire Live, Phil Norris, says that when it comes to news, ‘collaborating sources’ is the secret: “Often we may hear things like ‘someone has been stabbed’, but how do we find out if that’s true? What is going on at the scene? Are there emergency services there? If so, there’s clearly an incident. What do police, ambulance say?”

It is important that the public hold the trust in the news and the people that bring it to them – and Mr Norris reflects on the fact the job as trusted media is to “pause, reflect, check and ensure what we are printing is accurate”.

If the trust in the mainstream media is undermined, it begs the question of ‘who can the public trust to deliver the news accurately’? The UK’s independent fact checking organisation Fullfact pride themselves on providing honest checks on stories and information in the media at current. The site states what has been said, what’s untrue about it, and what the truth actually is. It is a useful tool for news readers and an example that the digital world has done more the world of news than just hinder it. It acts as a safeguard tool between the news and the public and defines between fact and false.

Thankfully, it seems we are safe for now as the majority of big-name news organisations hold a high level of trust. In 2017, Pew Research Centre ran a survey on the trust in news in the public.79% of people surveyed said they trusted the BBC as a news outlet, whilst 74% trusted ITV and 55% for Sky. Drastically, only 24% of respondents held trust in the Daily Mail.

In the same survey, it was found that only 37% of respondents think the media is politically neutral, whilst it has been found that British overall approval and trust in the media is relatively low compared to other countries.

The UK Government have even noticed a problem in the spread of news that cannot be trusted. They have compiled their own S.H.A.R.E checklist to ensure readers are not contributing to the spread of harmful content. S is for source and says to check the story is written by a source you trust and if in doubt to check the website’s ‘about’ section. H is for headline, which you should always read past. If it doesn’t sound real then the chances are, it probably isn’t. A is for analyzing of the facts and checking sites such as Fullfact. R is for retouched – incorrect news stories contain retouched photos or re-edited clips that have been completely falsified or taken out of context. E is for error, as many of these stories have mis-spelt or phony URL’s and titles, as well as unorganized layouts.

Experts are hopeful that campaigns such as this will prepare people for misinformation scandals. Algorithm-driven social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been blamed for the encouragement of fake news and misinformation. These sites decide what users will be interested in specifically, and show it on their news feed. Using this technique, people using the platform will always be exposed to what they already know and think.

Showing the difference between the freedom of the press in the UK (low) and Norway (high). Source: Freedom of the Press

Freedom House have created an interactive map displaying the freedom in the media in different countries and the ability for journalists to report on issues, with 1 being most free and 100 being not free at all. Whilst the UK stands with a score of 25, there are countries out there with freer rein – such as Norway.

We are lucky enough to live in a society where trust in the media is still certain amongst most of us (although falling), and freedom is amongst the highest. Countries such as Russia and Norway score within the 83-87 region, and when there is so little freedom, how can trust be expected?

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