Americans Think Fake News Is A Big Problem. But They Can't Agree On What Exactly Fake News Is.

Republicans are nearly three times more likely than Democrats to say journalists create a lot of fake news.

Much of the American public is concerned about fake news, a new poll finds ― but people have widely diverging views about exactly whose fault the problem is.

A Pew Research poll released Wednesday found that 50% of adults in the country call made-up news a very big problem in the U.S., putting it roughly on par with violent crime and income disparity, and significantly ahead of issues like racism, terrorism and illegal immigration. Only drug addiction and the affordability of health care ranked as broader concerns. 

Other questions show similarly widespread worries. About two-thirds of Americans say that made-up news has a big impact on Americans’ confidence in government, and 89% say they’ve often or sometimes encountered made-up news. About half say they’ve unknowingly shared fake information themselves.

More than half of the public says activists, political leaders and political staffers create a lot of made-up news and information; by contrast, just 36% say the same of journalists, just 35% of foreign actors, and just 26% of the public as a whole. At the same time, Americans are most likely to stay that the responsibility for fixing the problem lies mostly with the media, rather than tech companies, the government or the public.

Opinions on fake news, like so many other issues, are substantially defined along partisan lines. Republicans, who hold far less positive views of the media as a whole, are also more likely than Democrats to call made-up news a very big problem, and to say they often come across it.

“One of the starkest differences,” the report’s authors note, “is in assigning blame for creating made-up news and information. Republicans are nearly three times as likely as Democrats to say journalists create a lot of it (58% vs. 20%).”

When the term “fake news” originally emerged during the 2016 election, it referred mostly to unscrupulous websites adopting the look of legitimate news outlets to spread blatantly untrue stories. But it quickly blurred into a catchall phrase meaning, more or less, any news its user happened not to like. In a 2017 HuffPost/YouGov survey, voters who supported President Donald Trump said that most mainstream media reporting counted as fake news, while voters who backed Hillary Clinton say the term applied to most Trump administration statements. 

Pew Research surveyed 6,127 people online between Feb. 19 and March 4, using the American Trends Panel. More methodological details are available here.