Young Americans aren’t as confident in their ability to spot fake news as Qatari youths

by | Aug 5, 2019 | Blog, What We're Reading

A new study notes Middle Eastern participants are more confident in identifying misinformation, but there was no significant difference in how people verified information.

Youthquakes in a Post-Truth Era: Exploring Social Media News Use and Information Verification Actions Among Global Teens and Young Adults
Journalism & Mass Communication Educator
By Rebecca C. Nee
Jan. 19, 2019

Young people spend three hours on screens a day ⁠— but how often⁠ do they verify news stories online? Rebecca C. Nee from San Diego State University surveyed and interviewed teenagers and adults from 18 to 30 years old in the Middle East and the United States to explore how they consume and vet their news.

Nee found Middle Eastern participants had more confidence in their ability to recognize fake news, but there was no significant difference in how people verified information. “Because freedom of the press is restricted in many Middle Eastern countries, participants in that sample may not have known how widespread the problem of fake news has become on social media,” Nee said in the study.

She also found that the most common way people verified information was Googling a story’s headline and reading the comments to analyze its feedback — emphasizing a reliance on social cues to verify information. Others judged a story’s validity based on the credibility of the friend who shared it. One student said he followed Snapchat users’ posts when there was a hurricane in his home country; another followed news outlets’ social media to avoid paywalls.

Nee said journalism and media educators must develop classroom activities to teach their students verification skills because the spread of fake news on messaging apps could potentially threaten democracy.

Study Details

  • Nee gathered two separate data sets, one from October 2017 in Doha, Qatar, and the other from March to May 2018 in the Southwestern United States.
  • The first set of data used 258 Qatari participants, most of whom were teenagers, as well as five focus group interviews with 17 international young adults, aged 18 to 30. The second data set focused on 643 American university students.
  • Survey questions included demographics, frequency of social media use and use for news on a 5-point range (1 = never, 5 = almost always).