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.