WASHINGTON — Nearly all Americans agree that the widespread spread of misinformation is a problem.
Most people also think that social media companies, and the people who use them, are largely to blame for the situation. But some are very concerned that they themselves may be responsible, according to a new survey by The Pearson Institute and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Seventy-five percent of Americans identified misinformation as a problem when they were trying to access important information. About half put too much of the blame on the US government, and nearly three-quarters pointed to social media users and tech companies. Yet only 2 out of 10 Americans say they are deeply concerned that they have personally spread misinformation.
More, about 6 in 10, are at least somewhat concerned that their friends or family members have been part of the problem.
For Carmen Speller, a 33-year-old graduate student in Lexington, Kentucky, the divide is clear when she’s discussing the coronavirus pandemic with close family members. Speller has confidence in COVID-19 vaccines; His family doesn’t. He believes that misinformation his family saw on TV or read on suspicious news sites has influenced him in his decision to remain unconvinced against COVID-19.
In fact, some of his family members think that he is crazy to rely on the government for information about COVID-19.
“I feel like they believe I’ve been misinformed. I’m the one who is blindly following what the government is saying, it’s something I listen to a lot,” Speller said. It has gotten to the point where it causes a lot of tension with my family and some of my friends as well.”
Speller isn’t the only one who may have disagreements with her family.
The poll found that 61% of Republicans say the US government has a lot of responsibility for spreading misinformation, compared to only 38% of Democrats.
However, there is more bipartisan agreement about the role social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, play in the spread of misinformation.
According to the survey, 79% of Republicans and 73% of Democrats said that social media companies have a huge responsibility for misinformation.
And this type of rare partisan agreement among Americans could spell trouble for tech giants like Facebook, the biggest and most profitable of the social media platforms, which is drawing fire from Republican and Democrat lawmakers alike.
“The AP-NORC poll is bad news for Facebook,” said Konstantin Sonin, a professor of public policy at the University of Chicago that is affiliated with the Pearson Institute. “It makes it clear that attacking Facebook is popular by a large margin – even when Congress is split 50-50, and each side has its reasons.”
During a congressional hearing on Tuesday, senators vowed to hit Facebook with new rules after a whistleblower testified that the company’s own research shows its algorithms amplify misinformation and content that is targeted at children. do harm to.
During a meeting of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, D-Conn. Richard Blumenthal said, “It has the advantage of spreading misinformation and disinformation and spreading hatred.” Democrats and Republicans ended the hearing with an acknowledgment that rules should be introduced to change the way Facebook enhances its content and targets users.
The survey also showed that Americans are willing to blame just about everyone else for spreading misinformation, with 53% of them saying they’re not worried they’ve spread misinformation.
“We see this very often where people are very concerned about misinformation, but they think it is something that happens to other people – other people fool it, other people spread it,” Vanderbilt University of psychology professor Lisa Fazio, who studies how false claims spread. “Most people don’t recognize their role in this.”
Younger adults are more concerned that they have shared a lie, with 25% of those aged 18 to 29 being very or extremely concerned that they have spread misinformation, compared to only 14% of adults age 60 and older. in comparison. Sixty-three percent of older adults are not concerned, compared to nearly half of other Americans.
Yet it is older adults who should be more concerned about spreading misinformation, given that research shows they are more likely to share an article from a false news website, Fazio said.
Before she shares things with family or her friends on Facebook, Speller does her best to make sure the information she’s sharing about important topics like COVID-19 is peer-reviewed or from a trusted medical institution. Still, Speller admitted that there’s been a time or two that he hit “like” or “share” on a post that didn’t quite have all the facts.
“I’m sure it happened,” Speller said. “I don’t share things on social media that I didn’t find on verified sites. I’m ready for that if someone points to, ‘Oh that’s not right,’ I’ll think, OK, let me check it out.”