the impact of fake news

New Zignal Labs study underscores how this modern-day cyber threat places every major enterprise brand at risk

American news is in crisis.

Today’s news cycle is defined by the speed, scale and accessibility of social media. The rush to be first has led to some erroneous stories and embarrassing retractions. Plus, most readers aren’t fact checking what they read – and cases, actively help false news spread through liking, sharing, commenting and upvoting these stories. In the process, public figures and major brands take a big reputational hit – as do the journalists and outlets who spread the false narrative.

Zignal Labs recently commissioned a study of more than 2,000 US adults, conducted online by Harris Poll, to uncover people’s perceptions of media writ large – from traditional outlets to new media platforms – as well social media’s impact, news consumption habits, and more. Here are some of the key findings:

We place too much trust in our friends

Articles on social media are implicitly trusted, because they’re shared by people we trust: our friends, family members and acquaintances. What’s more — the majority of Americans don’t always fact check the news they see on social media. Although no generation is immune, millennials in particular have moved away from television and now rely on social media as their de facto source of information.

Here’s the problem: social media platforms surface content based on user’s past actions, profiles, and their friend networks, ensuring the news they see is less focused on a balanced viewpoint and more aligned with their core beliefs.

Millennials and Gen Z are social news junkies

Over two-thirds of Americans ages 18-34 (68 percent) use social media or online news sites as their primary source of news – and they’re nearly three times as likely to turn to these platforms versus television (23%). What’s more: younger audiences are somewhat willing recipients of alternative content due to fears that a mainstream media agenda is at work, selectively curating – even stifling – so-called “real” news. When anyone with an internet connection can write and spread “news,” there are no gatekeepers fact checking sources, no editorial process, no industry standards or code of ethics to ensure it’s the real deal. Once fake news goes national, the narrative is set; it’s extraordinarily difficult to correct.

Younger generations are turning to alternate news sources

While around half of all generations place at least 50% of their trust in mainstream media, younger generations have higher levels of trust for newer forms of media. Eighteen to 34 year olds are about three times as likely to trust most/all of the news from alternate/independent news sites as 55-64 year olds and nearly four times as likely as those ages 65 and over (27% vs. 10% and 7%, respectively). With millennials now the largest population on the planet, the threat of fake news originating from alternate news sources may continue to grow.

Preventing fake news seems like an impossible proposition. And yet fight against it, brands must. Just one well-placed, fake story has the potential to slash billions from a company’s valuation, derail a key piece of legislation, or take down a CEO. But with real-time media intelligence, brands can monitor how these stories spread and understand just who is driving the conversation, making it easy to see when a story is about to break out of a bubble and go viral.

By knowing what stories are germinating and which fake news stories warrant a reaction, teams can work to counter the effects of misinformation and mitigate ongoing risk to their brand reputation.

If you would like to learn more about the dynamics of today’s fake news crisis, download Zignal’s study.