Americans appear united in their concerns regarding the fake news phenomenon, but disagree pointedly on what constitutes fake news and how they determine whether or not a news report is bogus, according to a recent study on Americans’ perceptions of media bias and trustworthiness released by San Francisco-based tech PR firm Bospar.

According to Bospar’s Fake News study, Americans remains more or less in agreement on the potential dangers of fake news, with about half — 49 percent — claiming that trust in mainstream media will continue to erode if fake news continues at its current levels unchecked, and nearly the same number — 47 percent — claiming the government hasn’t been effective in investigating and curbing the practice.  

Fake News

However, many Americans seem confused about what the “fake news” label means, with 36 percent of those polled claiming that the perceived political views of the source determines whether they deem an article “fake” or not. More than half — 57 percent — claimed that fake news is simply misinformation deliberately created by a mainstream news outlet.

Case in point: 19 percent of Americans said they consider any negative coverage of President Trump to be fake news, and nearly the same number — 15 percent — claimed that any positive coverage of the President is fake.

Partisanship seems to be a reliable indicator regarding what media outlets Americans trust and which ones will provoke their incredulity. Nearly two-thirds — 62 percent — of Democrats consider CNN a trustworthy source, while only 22 percent of Republicans do. More than half — 57 percent — of Democrats consider New York Times to be a trustworthy news source, while only 20 percent of Republicans agree. On the other hand, 53 percent of Republicans consider Fox News trustworthy, compared to only 29 percent of Democrats.

However, Republicans appear  far more inclined to believe that the political persuasion of a media outlet determines whether or not something is “fake news”: 44 percent of Republicans claimed that the political views of the source is an indicator of whether or not something is spurious, compared to only 36 percent of Democrats who believe this.

Republicans were also far more likely than Democrats to hold the position that fake news simply means misinformation that’s deliberately manufactured by a mainstream news outlet (74 percent, versus 46 percent). Incredibly, while relatively few Americans consider Donald Trump’s Twitter feed to be a reliable news source, the study found that 21 percent of Republicans actually said they find Trump’s tweets trustworthy — compared to only four percent of Democrats who believe this — meaning that Republicans, statistically, trust Trump’s tweets more than they trust reporting from the New York Times.

The study also discovered that 59 percent of those polled admitted having believed a news story only to later discover that it was “fake.” Respondents said they typically evaluate whether an article is bogus by checking the story’s URL (34 percent), determining whether the news is either too good or too bad to be true (32 percent), Googling the journalist's name (28 percent), considering the reputation of the person who shared the article (24 percent), checking Snopes.com (22 percent) or looking for typos (21 percent).

Of those polled, 20 percent — or one-in-five Americans — said they no longer consider any news sources trustworthy.

The Bospar Fake News Study was conducted in late June by market research company Propeller Insights and polled more than 1,000 U.S. residents online.