Majority of Australians concerned about fake news

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 6 February 2019
The New York Times 2017 Truth campaign

The majority of Australians are worried about fake news as they place more trust in traditional media over social channels, a new report from Edelman has found.

The annual report, which acts as a trust barometer for the nation, also found Australian’s media engagement has increased 26 points, above the global average of 22 points.The number of people disengaged with news has almost halved in the last 12 months.

Nearly two in three (64%) Australians agreed they are worried about the impact of fake news – a number that has likely increased following high-profile scandals that have plagued social platforms, such as the Cambridge Analytica crisis in 2018.

Traditional media prevails

Traditional media continues to be the most trusted news source in Australia, followed closely by search engines.

This supports other market research that has suggested people are more engaged with news media than in previous years and are reengaging with trusted news sources. 

Earlier this week, NewsMediaWorks CEO Peter Miller said advertisers were ditching ‘ropey’ social media channels and returning to quality news. The Edelman research supports this view with 61% of people seeing traditional media as the most trusted source of information.

While this paints a positive picture for the clout of traditional media, newspapers and now digital media are struggling to perfect their business model with ad spend plummeting.

To counter this decline, news brands are increasingly moving to paid subscriptions.

In News Corp's fiscal 2019 first quarter key financial highlights it referenced strong paid digital subscriber growth at The Wall Street Journal, The Times and Sunday Times and The Australian, with digital subscribers accounting for more than half of total subscriber base.

Closing digital subscribers at News Corp Australia’s mastheads as of September 30 2018 were 442,400, compared to 375,400 in the prior year.

"We remain at an all time high for trust in traditional media as an information source, and we believe this is because the public are seeking out informative and true information when the traditional pillars of trust have begun to crumble," CEO of Edelman Australia Steven Spurr tells AdNews.

"They are seeking to understand the chaos and uncertainty around them and are questioning what they see when they see it.

"This trust in traditional media is good news for advertisers, however, it also means that there’s a need to respond to that trust and make sure that the messaging is aligned with Australians’ trust and increased engagement with news."

Low trust in social media

The Trust Barometer study also found that Australia is the country that trusts social media the least.

Australia, alongside France, is the least trusting country globally in social media with just 26% of people trust the digital platforms compared to 44% globally.

Despite the apparent lack of trust in social media channels overall, brands vote with their dollars and continue to invest in social media when it comes to advertising and usage and subscriber growth continues to rise.

In Facebook's fourth quarter and full year 2018  highlights it noted daily active users hit 1.52 billion on average for December 2018, which represents an increase of 9% year-over-year.

Facebook's mobile advertising revenue represented 93% of advertising revenue for the fourth quarter of 2018, up from 89% of advertising revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Speaking to AdNews, Facebook Australia and New Zealand MD Will Easton said every month, 16 million Australian’s and hundreds of thousands of businesses make decisions about whether they use its products and services.

“We are encouraged to see continued growth in the number of Australian’s using the  Facebook family of applications and we don’t take that for granted,” Easton said.

Easton stressed that Facebook has been very focused on  actions, with most of its focus and energy going into addressing some of the biggest social issues around the future of the internet, including protecting against election interference, content governance, cracking down on fake accounts and misinformation, investing heavily in safety and security, making sure people control their information and digital well-being.

“These are all complex issues, but we've made real progress,” he said.

“In many of these areas we believe we built the most advanced systems in the world. In other areas, we have clear road maps for our work ahead. These are significant changes, and we recognise we have more work to do.”

In relation to reducing fake news on Facebook, Easton said it's a responsibility it takes seriously as “people want accurate info on Facebook and so do we”.

He said Facebook has taken significant steps to fight against fake news on the platform and that the majority of fake news isn't politically motivated, but is financially motivated -  so it has been disrupting the economic incentives for people to create this.

“We are cracking down on fake accounts and we now block or disable millions of fake accounts at the point of creation each day," he said.

"We are also reducing the spread of fake news by demoting low quality content, known hoaxes, etc and we are giving people more context about the posts they see or are sharing.

“We have more work to do here, but we are making huge progress.”

A distrustful nation

The Edelman Trust Barometer for almost 19 years, with Spurr telling AdNews that it's a great opportunity to reflect on the events that have taken place in the last 12 months.

“From the Federal Government soap-opera and royal commissions, to global news on Brexit and Trump, we can see the truly overwhelming amount of news and information that Australians deal with every day,” Spurr said.

“The decisions we make about how much trust each institution is afforded is based on reputation, experience and the perception of those institutions among Australians.

“Whichever way you cut it, Australia is still a distrustful nation and there is a long way to go for our key institutions to build trust with the Australian public.”

Spurr adds that while it’s important to note that trust in social media is low, Australians still engage with it strongly. He stressed that while social media is a key channel for individuals, as well as for brands and institutions, the need for fact-checking continues to increase due to levels of scepticism.

“As a result, we as consumers are changing our behaviour to manage this. We’re seeing that 63% of Aussies now fact check, on traditional news sources, what they have seen on social platforms and elsewhere to corroborate what they read,” he said.

“We saw this behaviour in the informed public last year, and it seems that the majority of us are now doing this to some extent.”

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