Earlier this month, Facebook rolled out a series of tips aimed at helping users spot and flag fake news. Shortly afterward, the company took out full-page ads on the topic in prominent French outlets and suspended 30,000 accounts in France just ten days before its presidential election – every bit as contentious and divisive as our own – took place.

That’s the good news. Fake news continues to have massive real-world impact and we need all the help we can get.

Here’s the bad: our research, conducted by Harris Poll and released today, shows that the stage is largely set for fake news to remain a major media problem for the foreseeable future.

This is what we know:

Media consumption habits are shifting

If you’re 45 and older, it’s likely you still turn on the nightly news, can probably name an anchor or two, and perhaps even have a favorite station. Television is the most common medium that Americans in this demographic use for consuming the news. In contrast, 18 to 34-year-olds are nearly three times more likely to get their news from online news sites or social media than they are to get it from TV (68 percent vs. 23 percent). What does that mean? New forms of media are supplanting the old as younger people, supremely comfortable with digital media, embrace fast and easily accessible alternatives to traditional news sources.

Fact-checking and friends don’t mix

We accord our friends and contacts on social media great – and probably unwarranted – levels of trust and confidence. 74 percent of Americans read news articles that friends have shared on social media – and 86 percent of this group say they don’t always fact check the articles they’ve read. 79 percent of Americans on social media say that they trust at least some of the news articles shared by friends on social media. And across all generations, when Americans read a news article shared by a friend on social media, the most common action was to then share it themselves (32 percent), which is why content picks up momentum and virality.

Millennials gravitate to social for news…

45 percent of this demographic gets their news primarily from social media – versus just 10 percent for ages 35 and up. Pause and let that digest for a second. Almost half of the largest living generation of Americans has eschewed mainstream media stalwarts like The New York Times or Wall Street Journal as their go-to for the news of the day. That’s a pretty significant development.

What’s more: 46 percent of this generation also say they are likely to share articles they’ve read that were first shared by friends on social media. In short, a significant percentage is not just passively consuming this content, but also actively amplifying it.

…and they’re much more open to alternative/independent news sites

Millennials are about three times more likely to trust most/all of the news from alternative/independent news sites than adults ages 55 to 64 and nearly four times as likely as adults 65 and over (27 percent vs. 10 percent and 7 percent, respectively). Although just 16 percent of all respondents indicated they trust these sites (and 51 percent of people overall trust most or all of news from mainstream media sources), the fact remains: younger people are overwhelmingly more open to places like a Mic or Vox. Although some alternative or independent news sites, like these, can certainly be just as credible as their more mainstream counterparts, others aren’t overly burdened with a commitment to straightforward, factual reporting. That particular component has some troubling potential implications for media long term as millennials grow in power and influence.

Taken collectively, these findings paint a clear picture of a media landscape in the midst of massive change. People trust the content they see from their friends so there’s minimal fact checking and maximum confidence in its veracity. Consequently, they’re more likely to take some sort of action with that content – liking, commenting or sharing, for example – extending its reach and fueling its momentum. Layered on top of that, millennials – again, America’s largest living generation – are social news junkies. Furthermore, a fairly strong percentage of them don’t discount alternative news sites that may, or may not, have stringent editorial standards in place.


In short, our media landscape continues to support the pervasive spread of fake news. That’s a fact that every Fortune 500 company, elected leader, and celebrity needs to remember – and then plan for accordingly.

For more insights on changing media consumption habits and attitudes, click here to see the Zignal Labs research, A Report on the Spread of Fake News, in its entirety.