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Digital Consumer Trends – Fake news

In 2021, access to trustworthy news has been particularly important as Australians have endeavoured to stay informed on the evolving pandemic. This heightened level of awareness coupled with an increasing reliance on digital to replace real-world interactions during the pandemic, has created a heightened appreciation for the dangers of misinformation. Australians also have more choice than ever about which news sources they trust, how they decipher misinformation, and how to self-regulate their information sources. As consumers sort fact from fiction, businesses and the government are also dealing with the consequences of misinformation. Key facts include:

  1. Nearly 80% (79%) of our respondents see fake news as a problem in today’s media landscape.Over half (53%) 
  2. our respondents consider news from traditional providers such as TV news trustworthy, compared to only 18% for information on social media platforms
  3. Across all ages, more than a third (37%) of respondents stated that TV news was their first preference as a news source.

Through multiple lockdown experiences across the country, many Australians have turned to digital means to replace real-world connections and interactions. This has set the stage for a large-scale trial of information systems within society, urging many Australians to go to both traditional and newer sources of information to make sense of the events as they evolve. One outcome has been an increased perception of ‘fake news’; false stories that appear to be news, often spread with the intent of influencing readers’/viewers’ political beliefs or worldview. In 2021, the presence of ‘fake news’ is compelling new consumer behaviours to discern and decipher accurate information and prompting actions from business and government to combat its effect.

This article explores concerns over ‘fake news’, its implications for the way Australians interact with media content, social media, and the potential ramifications for Australian businesses and the government.

In a period of history where access to reliable news has been particularly important to the day to day lives of Australian’s it is no surprise that ‘fake news’ is seen as a threat. Nearly 80% (79%) of survey respondents see ‘fake news’ as a problem in today’s media landscape. Older generations were significantly more likely to hold this perception, with 85% of 65-75s agreeing, compared to 71% of 18-24s. Half (55%) of our respondents also indicated they find it difficult to differentiate between real and fake news. While this sentiment was reported across all age groups, older respondents found it more difficult to tell whether the news they are consuming is real or fake (64% of 65-75s, compared with 48% of 25-34s). 

Most Australians keep up to date with news and current events. 96% of respondents to Deloitte’s Media Consumer Survey 2021 reported that they regularly consume news,[i] with 45% doing so at least once a day on a digital device. The pandemic has only heighted our desire for news, with 22% of respondents reporting that they are reading the news more often now than they were before the pandemic.

When it comes to our preferred news sources, traditional media, such as TV continue to dominate. Across all ages, more than a third (37%) of respondents stated that TV news was their first preference as a news source. For older Australians TV news was even more prevalent, with 55% of respondents over the age of 65 nominating this as their go-to news source. Apps and websites affiliated with a news provider or newspaper (17%) came in second for our respondents overall.

In contrast, social media as a news source did not receive the same favour. The leading social platform was the preferred news source for only 8% of respondents. The next most popular social media platforms each received 2% of the respondents’ first preference ranking. While news is frequently shared on social media platforms, consumers appear to be relying on traditional sources during a time of uncertainty and when trust in information is top of mind. 

The appearance of fake news in our media landscape is creating an awareness that not all ‘news’ is equal. Across the board there is a perception that some news sources are not inherently trustworthy - with traditional sources viewed significantly more favourably than social media platforms. Only 18% of respondents felt that information found on social media was usually trustworthy and 1 in 3 respondents just don’t know whether to trust news on social media. Respondents aged between 18-24 were more accepting of social media platforms, with 30% finding them to be trustworthy. This trust steadily declines within older age demographics, with only 9% of 65-75s finding them to be a trustworthy source of news. A lack of perception of trustworthiness among older consumers presents a challenge for social media platforms as they look to keep older demographics engaged.

On the other hand, TV news and other traditional news providers such as radio and newspapers, were seen to be significantly more trustworthy despite a sizeable portion (>25%) across all age groups preferring to say they don’t know whether to trust traditional news sources. More than half of our respondents (53%) reported that they trust news from these traditional providers. This trust was highest amongst the older demographic (58% of 55s+) and lowest within the younger population (44% of 18-24s). While this currently remains a good news story for traditional news providers, it does highlight an ongoing challenge in the way in which they engage a younger demographic.

To alleviate concerns over fake news and the perceived trustworthiness of different news sources, consumers are modifying their online behaviour. Nearly three quarters (74%) of respondents indicated they rely on news from multiple sources to try and construct a more balanced and accurate picture of world events. This demonstrates that respondents are not only concerned about fake news but are concerned enough to spend time consuming multiple sources of information to mitigate the risk of and reduce their personal susceptibility to fake news.  

Media companies have seen this desire for validated information as a potential opportunity and there has been an increasing number of journals and newspapers offering ‘fact check’ resources online. These tools help consumers understand the validity of what they see and hear in the media, without needing to invest a significant amount of time identifying reliable sources of information.[i]

Consumers are not simply content with using multiple sources of information and are willing to go as far as stopping the use of services they perceive to contain too much fake news. Almost a third (31%) of respondents who had stopped using social media temporarily or permanently in the last year, did so because they felt there was “too much fake news” on the platform. This serves as a cautionary sign for social media platforms and other media providers demonstrating that consumers are willing to switch off platforms that fail to protect them from excessive exposure fake news. In the long term, this may have potential ramifications for the way in which businesses use social platforms to communicate with and advertise to their customers.

Concern around misinformation is not limited to consumers, with the Australian Federal Government also recognising the challenge that fake news and social media misinformation pose to the public. In February, the Federal Government supported non-profit Digi in introducing a voluntary code of practice to attempt to counter the spread of misinformation.[ii] Participating companies, including social media platforms, agreed to a range of initiatives, such as transparency reporting, to reduce the spread and visibility of misinformation published on their platforms. [iii] The intent of these reports is to improve the public and the Government’s understanding of the precise nature of the problem of fake news in Australia.[iv] In line with this increased visibility, continued high levels of public concern and additional pressure from regulators mean that media organisations may ultimately be faced with increased responsibility to proactively manage and remove fake news.

Fake news is a top-of-mind concern for many Australians. Although fake news is not limited to a single news source, consumers still rely on traditional news outlets such as TV and newspapers as their preferred and most trustworthy sources, especially when compared against social medial platforms. Fake news and social media misinformation are not ‘fringe’ media issues and as consumers grow increasingly aware and frustrated by the fake news in the media landscape it is expected that both consumers and the government will look to take action. Consumers will likely continue to moderate the content they consume which may mean leaving untrustworthy sources behind. Businesses need to be mindful of the perception that some demographics have of news and information on social media platforms and the potential ramifications for how they connect with consumers and advertise their business. Further, government attention and regulation to address the problem of misinformation in Australia may compound the case for media organisations to take proactive steps to reduce the impact of fake news and misinformation on consumers.

Unless otherwise referenced, the statistics in our 2021 Digital Consumer Trends articles are based on a survey commissioned by Deloitte Australia. It involved a representative sample of 2,000 Australians aged between 18-75 and was conducted in late July 2021, at a time when Australia's second wave of Delta cases was on the rise and restrictions were being introduced and changed every few days across NSW, VIC, QLD & SA. Numbers have been rounded for ease of comparison.

Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited (“DTTL”), its global network of member firms, and their related entities (collectively, the “Deloitte organisation”). DTTL (also referred to as “Deloitte Global”) and each of its member firms and related entities are legally separate and independent entities, which cannot obligate or bind each other in respect of third parties. DTTL and each DTTL member firm and related entity is liable only for its own acts and omissions, and not those of each other. DTTL does not provide services to clients. Please see to learn more.

[i] Deloitte, Media Consumer Survey 2021: Australian digital entertainment audience preferences, (2021)

[ii] See publications including The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker,” The ABC and RMIT’s “Fact Check,” and The Poynter Institute’s “Politifact”

[iii]Miranda Ward, “Facebook, Google join voluntary code to combat fake news,” Australian Financial Review, (February, 2021)

[iv] Digital Industry Group Inc. Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, (February 2021)

[v] Digital Industry Group Inc. Australian Code of Practice on Disinformation and Misinformation, (February 2021)