Three in four British adults think that it should be a criminal offence to spread fake news deliberately, newly-published research by Ipsos MORI for King’s College London has found. Seven in ten also say they are worried that fake news could influence the result of an election or referendum in Britain.
The survey, conducted online in February with 1,084 adults aged 16-75 across Great Britain, which defined “fake news” as “deliberately untrue information disguised as news stories with the intention of deceiving people”, found that 39% agreed strongly that “It should be a criminal offence to spread fake news deliberately”, and a further 36% tended to agree. Only one in ten tended to disagree (6%) or strongly disagreed (3%). There was strong agreement across all age groups, but older participants were particularly likely to agree. Among those who said that they use online news sites as their main source of news, 73% were in favour and only 9% against.
The research also found widespread worries about the impact of fake news on the political process: 70% agree that “I am worried that fake news could influence the result of an election or referendum in Britain”, with only 11% disagreeing.
Those who say that they voted “Remain” in the 2016 referendum on EU membership are especially likely to agree (78% to 8%), but “Leave” voters also agree by a substantial margin (65% to 17%) that they are worried. People who voted Labour at the 2017 general election are more likely to agree (77%), and especially more likely to agree strongly (38%), than Conservative voters (66% and 23% respectively).
Opinions are divided on how much risk fake news poses to the wary. Almost a third, 31%, agree that “Fake news is easy to spot, and should never fool you if you are careful”, but 36% disagree. Those who say that social media is their main source of news are significantly more likely (41%) than anybody else to believe that fake news is easy to spot. Only around one person in four, 27%, admits that “I have been misled by fake news stories in the past”, while 40% disagree; however, people who rely on social media as their main source of news are much more likely to feel they have been misled, 42% agreeing and only 32% disagreeing. Younger people are also more likely to say they have been fooled in the past: 38% of 16-24 year olds and and 32% of 25-34 year olds agree, compared to 21% of those aged 55-and-over.
There is also disagreement on whether fake news is as bad a problem in Britain as on the other side of the Atlantic. A quarter of Britons (25%) agree that “There is a lot of fake news in America but it is much rarer here in Britain”, but 37% disagree, and while 35% think that “You would never get fake news on the BBC”, 36% take the opposite view. There is little difference in confidence in the BBC by age or gender, but a significant one by nation – while Britain as a whole is evenly divided over whether there would ever be fake news on the BBC, Scotland splits two to one (48% to 24%) in favour of believing that it might happen.
Roger Mortimore, Professor of Public Opinion and Political Analysis at King’s College London, said:
In the month that the government published a white paper on stricter regulation of online companies to protect the public from harmful content, these findings should give everybody food for thought. The British public is worried about fake news, and sees no reason why it should be expected to tolerate it. If Parliament can find an effective way to ban the spreading of fake news, they can hope for support just as strong as they will get in their quest to block other online harms.
- Interviews were conducted online by Ipsos MORI among a representative quota sample of 1,084 adults aged 16-75 across Great Britain between 22 and 26 February 2019. Data have been weighted to the known profile of the British population in this age range.
- Full question wording for each of the questions referred to in this release is given in the accompanying “topline” results document and further breakdowns of the result are shown in the computer tables. Further details can be found at www.ipsos-mori.com.
- The survey was conducted for the Polling Club at King’s College London. The Polling Club, run by Professor Roger Mortimore, allows students to increase their knowledge and understanding of survey research and public opinion by helping to design and analyse the results from a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI. For further details about the Polling Club, contact Professor Mortimore.