TV cameras lined up, covering large public event fake news

Fake news: are you good at spotting it?

How good are you at spotting fake news?

In 2017, the talk about ‘fake news’ is actually news. The Administration has routinely said media outlets publish fake news. Yet, the White House has faced its own criticisms. Like when White House Social Media Director Dan Scavino tweeted a now-deleted video, purportedly showing Miami International Airport after Hurricane Irma.

Given all the discussion around fake news, it’s worth asking:

Do people think they can detect fake news? Do they think others can?

According to our soon-to-be released 2017 Washington in the Information Age study, the answer is clear, at least among Washington Insiders. (We define Washington Insiders as policymakers, Capitol Hill staff, federal executives, and policy-focused private sector professionals.)

Our research shows that Washington Insiders feel confident in their ability to identify and navigate fake news and alternative facts. Their confidence exceeds that of the general public, as measured by a Pew study from December 2016.

Why are Washington Insiders more confident at detecting fake news?

One factor that may help this group detect fake news is time. Washington Insiders spend much more time than others digging into the facts driving policies, influencing relationships, and underpinning the headlines. Thus, they consider themselves better at detecting and safeguarding against fake news.

Another contributing factor may be access to multiple information sources. Beyond the average American, this group’s access includes relationships with key players in the political ecosystem. People like government policymakers and staffers, political journalists, and other policy influencers are common connections. Such relationships also enable access to events and information. This access seems to set Washington Insiders apart in how capable they feel at spotting fake news.

A third factor for some Washington Insiders is first-hand experience with the ‘spin room’ and effective messaging. Some of these Insiders have crafted administration or Hill communications, been on the receiving end as a journalist, led think tank groups, interpreted and responded to public statements, and more. The familiarity with how information is framed and published in Washington, D.C. gives this group a great deal of confidence in their ability to detect fake news.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

For all the talk about ‘fake news,’ the phenomenon isn’t really anything new. According to Merriam-Webster:

Fake news appears to have begun seeing general use at the end of the 19th century.

And just last week, Adrian Chen of the The New Yorker wrote about the topic, referencing A. Brad Schwartz’s recent history, Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News. Chen discusses the public reaction from the infamous 1938 radio broadcast, including a proposed Senate bill that would have required all radio shows to be reviewed by the FCC before being aired on radio.

Such a bill might seem far-fetched today, but what Chen brings to light is that even so-called experts can get caught up in the flood of information that might surround an event. This makes our survey findings all the more interesting, since so much more information is produced and available today. Leveraging experience, access to trusted sources, and even validating trusted sources by consuming third-party information has, for now, given today’s Washington Insiders confidence in battling ‘alternative facts’ and fake news.

More about the study

OurWashington in the Information Age survey uncovers trends that enable organizations to target Washington Insiders with the type of content they prefer, through the channels they’re most likely to rely on. Survey data, gathered from over 1,000 policy or politics-focused respondents, are translated into insightful visualizations paired with narrative context. The published survey report and the underlying raw data are available to our members.