The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday March 20th

North Carolinians are worried about the impact of fake news, poll shows

A poll conducted by Meredith College revealed that the vast majority of North Carolinians believe fake news is a problem and confuses citizens about politics and government.

Eighty-eight percent of North Carolinians believe fake news is confusing for Americans, the poll shows. And 75 percent of those surveyed say they encounter fake news frequently or occasionally. 

The poll, which was conducted in late February, sampled 876 registered voters in North Carolina by email or phone, and it had a margin of error of 3 percent.

David McLennan, a Meredith College professor of political science who conducted the poll, said the highly partisan nature of American politics has skewed North Carolinians' ability to know exactly what fake news is.

"If they disagree with it, they automatically label it as fake,” McLennan said.

Ferrel Guillory, a UNC journalism professor, said many people have misunderstood what fake news actually is.

“News organizations will correct their mistakes,” Guillory said. “Fake news organizations, disseminators, don’t correct their mistakes. They have purposefully disseminated something that is false.”

Politicians use the term "fake news" as a political tool to discredit their opponents, he said.

"Obviously, President Trump wants you to think that The New York Times is fake news unless they write something that he likes," he said.

McLennan said he finds it interesting that many people believe fake news is prevalent and has a substantial impact on our culture.

“I don’t have quantitative data to support this, but it’s my belief that people are overestimating their ability to spot what is true and what is not true,” McLennan said.

The study also found that Democrats and Republicans commonly use words such as "evil" to describe the opposition party.

McLennan said North Carolinians' confusion about distinguishing fake news and legitimate news organizations reflects the divide in politics and society.

“I think it’s definitely part of the partisanship problem,” he said. "I think it’s more of a reflection of hyper-partisanship.”

Online journalism has increased the amount of news that readers have access to — including fake news content, Guillory said.

“My point here is that fake news is only one element on a much larger issue in our society right now," he said.

Guillory said some people put aside their critical thinking skills when deciphering between fake and real news, and that education about it is vital.

“We need much more teaching about literacy in junior high and high school and much more discussion on campus,” Guillory said.

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