Fake news – Ipsos Perils of Perception report

Around the world, we think fake news, filter bubbles and post-truth are things that affect other people much more than ourselves, a major new Ipsos study of more than 19,000 people in 27 countries including Australia, and part of our long-running series on misperceptions of key social realities, The Perils of Perception, has revealed.

Fake news – Ipsos Perils of Perception report

  • Australians among those nationalities most likely to think other people live in their own internet bubble, looking for opinions they agree with, while saying they themselves don’t.
  • 65% of people across 27 countries think other people live in their own internet bubble –but only 34% think they themselves do
  • 63% of people think they can spot fake news – but only 41% think the average person can
  • 60% think other people don’t care about facts anymore, they just believe what they want
  • 60% also say they themselves see deliberately fake reports in the media at least fairly regularly
  • 48% say they themselves have believed a story they have then found out is fake
  • 36% now think of ‘fake news’ as an attack term used to discredit stories that politicians or the media don’t agree with
  • 64% think people trust politicians to tell the truth less than they did 30 years ago

While Australia stands out regarding our perception of others being in the internet bubble while rating ourselves differently, we are around the global average on most other measures. Interestingly, Australians are however consistently different to the global average when asked why we think people get lots of things wrong about their country, being more likely to nominate misleading media, social media people biased views of the world as likely causes.

The majority of global respondents, however, also say they regularly see fake news, and nearly half say they have believed a fake story before finding out it’s fake.

It is not surprising then that we also think trust in politicians and the media has declined and that lying in the media is increasing. On a more positive note, people do not see a wholesale decline in knowledge of political and social issues among our populations – we are split on whether our understanding of realities is increasing or not.

Commenting on the findings, Ipsos Public Affairs Director, David Elliott, said: “The challenges to our reality-based view of the world are real and pressing, as some of the findings from our study show, with the majority of people saying they’ve seen fake news, and perhaps more worryingly with half saying they’ve believed it at least for a while.

“And this is made more dangerous because we often have an in-built tendency to think that we’re better than most others. This is certainly the case for our views on our ability to spot lies and understand reality versus others’ ability to do so. This pushes us to think that fake news, filter bubbles and post-truth are other people’s problems, not ours. But the results of this survey show that these are a genuine concern for many people, including Australians.

“We also have a tendency to think things are worse now than in the past – and this is reflected in our view of decreasing trust in politicians and perceived increases in political and media lying. However, this may not reflect reality. In Britain, Ipsos has been tracking trust in politicians to tell the truth since 1983, and it has barely moved over that time: in 2017 only 17% trusted politicians to tell the truth, but that is virtually identical to the very low level of trust in 1983, which was 18%.

“It should be noted that interviewing took place for this study in June-July so the recent ousting of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister had not yet occurred and therefore wasn’t exerting influence on Australians’ views of politicians.

“There is, however, some hope from the survey. Many have spotted that fake news is being used as a term to attack real facts. However, while globally, we recognise that it’s not all downhill on political knowledge, with more thinking the public’s knowledge is increasing than decreasing in most countries, this is not the case in Australia, with more suggesting political knowledge had decreased,” he said.

Other people live in a filter bubble

65% of people across 27 countries believe that the average person in their country lives in a bubble on the internet, only connecting with people like themselves and looking for opinions they already agree with.

This varies significantly between countries. The US has the highest level of agreement: 77% of Americans believe that others live in a bubble, followed by Indians (74%), and Malaysians (72%). Australia sits in sixth position with 70% believing that others live in a bubble. At other end of scale, only 44% agree with this in Japan.

But people think they themselves are much more open: only 34% think they only connect to people like themselves or look for opinions they already hold. The Indians (56%), Chinese (54%) and Malaysians (53%) were most likely to see themselves as in a bubble, whereas only 22% of Germans agree with this about themselves, as do 23% of Swedes and Argentinians. Australia was close to the average with 32% considering themselves in a bubble.

Other people struggle to identify fake news

63% of people are confident they can identify ‘fake news’ (which was defined as entirely made up stories or facts) from real news. People in Turkey, Chile and Peru are particularly confident in their own abilities, but people in Japan (30%) and Spain (39%) are less sure. Again, in Australia we are around the average with 67% confident they can identify ‘fake news’.

But again people have much less faith in the average person in their country: only 41% think their average fellow countryperson can distinguish real and fake news. The Swedes (26%), Japanese (26%), Italians (27%), British (28%) and Americans (29%) have the least faith in their fellow citizens. Australia was also towards the bottom of the list with 36% suggesting their average fellow countryperson can distinguish real and fake news.

But other people don’t care about facts anyway

60% believe that the average person in their country doesn’t care about facts on politics or society anymore, they just believe what they want.

This rises to 71% in Peru, 70% in Serbia, 69% in Turkey and 68% in the US. In Australia the figure is 64%. More people agree than disagree with this in all 27 countries, but the Italians (48% agree), Japanese (49%) and Chinese (49%) have more faith in their citizens’ interest in facts.

It’s not surprising then that the majority have more confidence in their own understanding of social realities like immigration levels and crime rates than the average person. 59% think they have a better understanding, with only 29% saying they don’t. Again, Australia is around the average with 57% and 28% respectively.

Turkish (76%) and Indian (75%) respondents are particularly confident that they are better informed than their average citizen. This may reflect that this study is conducted online, among a more affluent, connected population than average in these countries – but there is misplaced confidence in many countries where this cannot be the explanation. For example, 58% of online people in Britain think they have a better view of reality than the average person, and only 27% think they don’t.

‘Fake news’ is regularly seen by the majority and has been believed by nearly half

60% of people across the countries surveyed say they see stories where news organisations have deliberately said something that isn’t true ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ regularly.

But there is a huge variation among countries. 82% in Argentina say they see deliberately fake stories at least fairly regularly, but only 30% in Germany, 36% in Japan and 39% in South Korea say the same. In Australia, 57% say they see deliberately fake stories at least fairly regularly.

48% of people across the 27 countries (and 46% in Australia) say they’ve been taken in by fake news in the past – that they’ve believed a news story was real until they later found out it was fake. Brazilians are particularly likely to agree with this, with 62% saying they’ve believed a fake story at some point.

‘Fake news’ is losing its meaning: a third think it’s used as an attack term for stories politicians don’t like

The term ‘fake news’ is used in a number of different ways. The most common understanding is ‘stories where the facts are wrong’, which 56% pick out as their understanding of the term (55% in Australia). But 44% also see fake news as stories where news outlets or politicians only pick facts that support their side of the argument. In Australia, one half had this interpretation of fake news.

And 36% now see fake news as a term politicians and the media use to discredit news they don’t agree with. The percentages picking this definition out varies considerably between countries, with a majority (51%) in the US defining fake news this way, down to only 11% in Italy. In Australia, 42% had this interpretation of fake news.

People think they are wrong about social realities because the media, social media and politicians mislead them – but many also recognise they have their own biases

Other Ipsos misperceptions studies show that people get a lot wrong about key realities, including what percentage of their population are immigrants, or whether crime is going up or down. When asked why people get these things wrong, the main answers were that politicians mislead people (52% globally and in Australia) or the media (49% globally and 54% in Australia) or social media misleads people (41% globally and 48% in Australia).

But many also see that people have a biased view of the world: 43% think we’re wrong because of our tendency to focus on negative news, to think things are getting worse or to generalise from our own experience. In Australia, one half attributes misperceptions to biased views.

But there are variations across countries. People in South Africa (68%) and the US (64%) are particularly likely to blame our misperceptions on politicians misleading us.

People in Serbia (68%), Turkey (61%) and Britain (60%) are particularly likely to blame the media for misleading us.

People in Malaysia (59%), the US (58%) and Britain (56%) blame social media.

But people in the US (57%), South Africa (56%) and Sweden (56%) are also most likely to see our own biases as leading people astray.

We think trust is in politicians is declining, and lying is increasing – but we’re split on whether our political knowledge is getting worse

Given the results from the survey, it’s no surprise that 64% think people in their country trust politicians to tell the truth less than they did 30 years ago. This includes a majority in every country in the study and reaches highs of 80% in Sweden and 77% in South Africa. In Australia, 69% believe trust in politicians has declined.

Further, 57% globally and in Australia think there is more lying in politics and the media than there was 30 years ago, up to 71% in South Africa, 69% in the US and 68% in Sweden. This is not the view of everyone, with 11% thinking there is less lying, up to 22% in India.

And despite all the challenges of fake news, filter bubbles and post-truth, we are more likely to think that the average person knows more about politics and society (39%) rather than less (30%) compared with 30 years ago. South Koreans (66%), Malaysians (61%) and Indians (56%) are particularly positive about how knowledge has changed. Swedes and Germans are most negative: 47% of Swedes and 42% of Germans think knowledge has decreased. Interestingly Australia only 29% think average person knows more about politics and society while 37% think it is less.