It’s hard to know whether to laugh, cry, shrug or shake our heads at the results of a recent poll on where most people get their political news — and how much they trust that source.
One thing we don’t feel is surprise: America’s most popular source for government-related news is social media, and social media also has the lowest trust level of seven types of news source.
We’re cheered to note local newspapers, local TV news and public radio and TV form a cluster of the most-trusted sources.
The poll by The Associated Press-NORC revealed a dichotomy between reliance on social media for government news and the stark level of mistrust — 88% of poll respondents acknowledge no more than “a moderate amount” of trust — that seems paradoxical.
“It is difficult to get facts. You have to read between the lines. You have to have a lot of common sense,” Leah Williams, 29, of Modesto, Calif., told the Associated Press. A Republican, Williams says she relies on like-minded friends and family to help sort through conflicting information. “There are wolves in sheep’s clothing everywhere.”
But given how often people check in on social media and the prevalence of political posts on those pages, it may be that people are exposed to that news more so than actively seeking it out.
The poll found that 47% of Americans believe it’s difficult to know if the information they encounter is true, compared with 31% who find it easy to do so. When deciding whether something is factual, there is widespread consensus on the importance of transparency in how the information was gathered and if it is based on data. Democrats and Republicans alike frequently find the process challenging.
We have serious concerns about the fake, misleading and increasingly divisive content that social media micro-targets to ever-smaller segments of the population at the exclusion of more balanced information.
And we will continue to argue that social media’s congressionally approved ability to avoid any responsibility for posted content is both dangerous and unfair to publications that do take responsibility for what we publish.
At the same time, we’re encouraged that folks say they have a healthy level of skepticism about what they see on social media.
Nevertheless, there are lessons for everyone in media, because no source was exonerated by the poll as unimpeachably trustworthy.
While local papers, TV news and public stations were most trusted, none had fewer than 36% of poll respondents viewing it as “only a little/not at all” trustworthy. Put another way, no fewer than two in five Americans find virtually every source of news to be untrustworthy.
There is always room to improve, and we work hard to earn and keep your trust. There is also work for news readers and consumers of social media, as the ability for us to discern reality from hype and marketing is both more difficult and more important.