Brain power

Fake news can boost trust in government

Originally posted on The Horizons Tracker.

One of the most interesting developments of spring was the move by Twitter to begin regulating the content that appeared on its platform.  Donald Trump had several tweets marked as false, and Kate Hopkins was removed from the site.

New research1 from Rutgers University finds that the prevalence of misinformation has a diverse impact on trust in society, with benefits for the government, at the expense of trust in the media, which declines.

The researchers began by defining fake news as information that’s designed to look like legitimate news content, but with few of the practices or editorial standards of proper journalism.

The analysis found that exposure to fake news decreased our general trust in the media generally, but it appeared to increase trust in politics, with trust in both the justice system and in Congress rising.  For instance, consumption of fake news was linked with a 4% increase in general political trust, and an 8% increase in trust in Congress specifically.

Data was collected from around 3,000 Americans who completed surveys between October and November 2018, which spanned a period before and after midterm elections. In between the two surveys, a browser plug-in was used to track what the volunteers read online, with this data used to gauge whether consumption of fake news correlated with changes in trust.

The study period was one that was defined by considerable attention to political news, with the midterms acting as the first major election since Trump was elected president. As such, the media was heavily focused on the results of the elections, and their subsequent implications for political life. The researchers believe this would increase the likelihood of being exposed to both mainstream and fake news content.

Political differences

The observed trend was broadly consistent across the political spectrum, but there were nonetheless some observable differences.  For instance, among those who regard themselves as strong liberals, exposure to fake news resulted in a decline in trust in the government, with moderates and conservatives going the other way.

“Strong liberals exposed to right-leaning misinformation may be most likely to reject its claims and mistrust the current Republican government,” the researchers say.  “In contrast, moderate or conservative respondents may take that misinformation at face value and increase their confidence in the current political institutions.”

The researchers explain that the views and attitudes we have towards the media influence how we both find and evaluate information, as well as impacting who we believe and how we act in uncertain circumstances.  It can even influence how we participate in the political process.

The findings emphasize the considerable importance of the battle to combat the rise in fake news that’s underway across the world today, whether from a social, technological or regulatory approach.

“It has become clear that none of the stakeholders—audience members, technological companies, media, fact-checking organizations, or regulators—can tackle this problem on their own,” the researchers explain.  “Platforms should work hand in hand with media and users to implement solutions that increase the social costs of spreading false stories. Regulators can help increase the transparency that is required in the process.”

Article source: Fake News Can Boost Trust In Government.

Header image source: Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash.


  1. Ognyanova, K., Lazer, D., Robertson, R. E., & Wilson, C. (2020). Misinformation in action: Fake news exposure is linked to lower trust in media, higher trust in government when your side is in power. Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review.
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Adi Gaskell

I'm an old school liberal with a love of self organizing systems. I hold a masters degree in IT, specializing in artificial intelligence and enjoy exploring the edge of organizational behavior. I specialize in finding the many great things that are happening in the world, and helping organizations apply these changes to their own environments. I also blog for some of the biggest sites in the industry, including Forbes, Social Business News, Social Media Today and, whilst also covering the latest trends in the social business world on my own website. I have also delivered talks on the subject for the likes of the NUJ, the Guardian, Stevenage Bioscience and CMI, whilst also appearing on shows such as BBC Radio 5 Live and Calgary Today.

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