A new poll has found that more Americans feel threatened by the creation and spread of fake news and misinformation than terrorism, violent crime, or illegal immigration. As for who creates the fake news, that’s up for debate.
Half of all Americans see made-up news as a bigger problem that other key security issues, a Pew Research Center poll published Tuesday has found. Though drug addiction and affordability of healthcare remain the biggest issues in the American consciousness, “made-up news and information” beat out violent crime, climate change, racism, illegal immigration and terrorism in the survey.
More than two thirds – 68 percent – say fake news shakes their confidence in government, 54 percent say it weakens their trust in each other, and 51 percent say it impacts political leaders’ ability to “get work done.”
Respondents blame political leaders and activists for much of the fake news circulating, but say the onus is on journalists to correct the problem. Nearly eight in ten believe that the spread of fake news should be restricted, with only 20 percent viewing it as protected under the First Amendment.
This data is all the more interesting given how vague the term “fake news” is. Though propaganda and disinformation is as old as the written word, the term took on a life of its own around 2016, when then-candidate Hillary Clinton used it to shut down conspiracy theories. Those included claims that her campaign manager John Podesta was secretly running an underage sex trafficking operation from the basement of a Washington DC pizza restaurant.
Buzzfeed Journalist Craig Silverman used the term “fake news” two years earlier to slam a conservative news site for publishing a false story about an ebola outbreak, and again when reporting on a Macedonian ‘troll farm’ he said was influencing the 2016 election. The connection with foreign interference still looms large, and 35 percent of the Pew poll’s respondents said they blame “foreign actors” for the supposed epidemic.