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Majority of news consumers see “fake news” as a big problem today

Survey data show concern over which news sources to trust

What can companies do to allay concerns about “fake news”? Trust-building and preparing for the future may be key.

Recent elections in the United States and elsewhere put a spotlight on the production of “fake news”: false stories that appear to be news, often spread with the intent of influencing readers’ political beliefs or worldview.1

About three-quarters of Americans who say they follow news and current events agree that fake news is a big problem today, according to findings from Deloitte’s recent Digital Media Trends study.2 That figure includes 44% of news consumers who say they strongly agree with this sentiment. Only 9% of news consumers say they strongly disagree with this statement.

Fake news can originate from any number of sources and is shared across different platforms. One of the hallmarks of fake news is that the content looks as though it’s produced by reliable news outlets. Other forms of misinformation—such as deepfakes,3 biased reporting and selectively quoting sources—add to the confusion, making it increasingly difficult for news consumers to determine what is true.

Although fake news is not a new threat and exists across a variety of media—including print, TV, radio and online media4—much of the recent discourse around fake news involves social media platforms.5 Fake news stories are often spread through social media sites, despite efforts by many companies to identify and remove them.6

Some news consumers remain concerned about the quality of news they encounter on these sites. For instance, two-thirds of those surveyed across all ages who are news consumers say they don’t trust news on social media platforms, with those in older generations being even more wary of news on these sites. 

Yet, for some, this lack of trust doesn’t seem to affect their news consumption behaviour: About a quarter of consumers say that reading or watching the news is one of the top activities they do on social media. Gen Zs and millennials are more likely than some older news consumers to identify some major social media sites as one of the top ways they prefer to stay updated on news and current events. At the same time, they’re less likely to express distrust in news on social media platforms.

When asked specifically about fake news and the 2020 US presidential election, 43% of news consumers felt that social media companies did a good job managing misinformation. Still, despite wide-ranging efforts by many social media platforms to stall the spread of fake news on their sites, 44% of news consumers said these companies could have done more.

Traditional news organisations, too, struggle with consumer trust: Forty-four percent of news consumers overall say they don’t trust news from traditional sources, including about half of millennials (51%).

Despite their expressed concern and relatively low levels of trust in news, our study shows that a vast majority of news consumers—84%—say they try to get news from sources that they know review and verify stories before publishing.7

Takeaways for TMT executives

  • Companies should prioritise consumer trust. The issue of trust extends far beyond news. Trust-building is a key component of customer retention and overall value. So how can companies and leaders work to build trust with consumers?
  • Social pressure and potential regulation. As the potential for new regulation of these platforms continues and social pressures mount for companies to take responsibility for the content on their platforms, there will be significant impacts on not only companies but consumers and their data. What can companies and leaders do now to prepare for the future?

Technology, Media & Telecommunications

Deloitte’s Technology, Media & Telecommunications (TMT) industry practice brings together one of the world’s largest group of specialists respected for helping shape many of the world’s most recognised TMT brands—and helping those brands thrive in a digital world.

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  1. Cambridge Online Dictionary, “Fake news ,” 2018.

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  2. Kevin Westcott et al., Digital media trends, 15th edition: Courting the consumer in a world of choice , Deloitte Insights, April 16, 2021. All survey data cited in this article comes from this study, which surveyed 2,009 US consumers in February 2021.

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  3. Jeff Loucks, Deepfakes and AI , Deloitte, October 26, 2018.

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  4. Jackie Mansky, “The age-old problem of ‘fake news’ ,” Smithsonian Magazine, May 7, 2018.

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  5. Aengus Bridgman et al., “The causes and consequences of COVID-19 misperceptions: Understanding the role of news and social media ,” Misinformation Review, June 18, 2020.

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  6. Catherine Thorbecke, “What social media giants are doing to counter misinformation this election ,” ABC News, October 18, 2020.

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  7. Westcott et al., Digital media trends, 15th edition .

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Cover image by: Viktor Koen

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