Media Effects Research Lab - Research Archive

Fake News Stories from Credible and Non-Credible News Organizations

Student Researcher(s)

Gleeson Smith (B.A. Candidate); Erin Ragan (B.A. Candidate); Jason Salinas (B.A. Candidate); Megan Hughes (B.A. Candidate)

Faculty Supervisor

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar

This project was based on a work in COMM 418. 

INTRODUCTION

With the advent of online news and social media, it has been increasingly more difficult to discern between real and fake news. The Internet is a game changer for the distribution of misinformation, as it has become increasingly more difficult to quell the spread of fake news stories in such a connected online sphere. This study aimed to test how credible the public perceived a fake news story to be, based on the news source and social media platform they were exposed to.
Prior research has expanded upon how the nature of the Internet lends itself to being the perfect vehicle for fake news, due to the “fast paced stream” of information that constantly is being updated (Zubiga, Ji p.162, 2013). Scholars have researched that particularly online, messages will be processed peripherally unless people are highly involved with the content (Phi Delta Kappan, 2017). A 2013 study found that authority cues also distract people from diligently fact checking, because people are so influenced by the perceived prestige of the source that they don’t give thought to the possibility of deception (Lee & Sundar, 2013). Another way people are swayed by sources is when it is in opposition or agreement with their political beliefs. Meirick and Bessarabova (2016) conducted research focusing on selective exposure and political affiliation, and found that both parties were equally likely to believe fake news that aligned with their beliefs (Meirick & Bessarabova, 2016). One last piece of research we focused on found that people with higher levels of education had better memory of news than those with lower levels of education (Grabe, Kamhawi, & Yegiyan, 2009). Their research work lends credence to education having a factor in processing media in different ways.  

Research Questions/Hypotheses
Research Question: For United States residents, what is the relationship between fake news, credibility, and trustworthiness among The New York Times and The National Enquirer?
H1: Highly educated people will be more likely to fact check articles.
H2: Republicans will not trust New York Times as much as other political viewpoints.
H3: People that have lower trust of articles will fact check more often
H4: The New York Times will be viewed as a more credible and trustworthy source compared to The National Enquirer.

Method
A 2 condition (The New York Times vs. The National Enquirer) online survey was conducted to test the research questions and hypotheses. Participants (n=98) were divided into two conditions and exposed to the same fake news story on the Twitter and Facebook page of the news outlet they were randomly assigned to. After, the participants took part in a questionnaire which had a total of 47 questions including a 16 item 11-point scale of adjectives that was used to determine the credibility and trustworthiness of articles, and an 8 item 11-point adjective scale that was used to determine newsworthiness. This scale was adapted and shortened from the original 31-item scale created by Alyssa Appelman and Shyam Sundar (Appelman & Sundar 2014).

RESULTS
In summation, the results of the various tests gave interesting insights. Though the first hypothesis was not supported, it provided evidence that highly educated people are actually less likely to fact check articles than people with lower levels of education. The second hypothesis found a significant relationship between political affiliation and source trust. Republicans were both more likely to trust The National Enquirer and less likely to trust The New York Times than Democrats. The third hypothesis was also significant, and supported the idea that people with lower trust of articles are more likely to fact check. Lastly, our fourth hypothesis showed a significant finding that The New York Times was viewed as more credible and trustworthy than The National Enquirer.

CONCLUSION
Some of the results of this study align with the findings of past research. The authority heuristic (Lee & Sundar, 2013) predicted that people were more likely to be influenced by source prestige, and indeed our participants viewed the The New York Times was more credible and trustworthy than The National Enquirer. Our result that Republicans were both more likely to trust The National Enquirer and less likely to trust The New York Times than Democrats supported Meirick and Beassarabova’s (2013) findings that people seek news that reinforces their personal beliefs, and gives a sense of cognitive consistency. These researcher’s work may also provide evidence as to why we found that people with lower trust of articles were more likely to fact check. It is possible that people who read articles that are not consistent with their personal beliefs are more likely to fact check what they perceive as untrustworthy. However, our finding that highly educated people are less likely to fact check articles than people with lower levels of education was in opposition with the findings of Grabe, Kamhawi, and Yegiyan’s prior research.
These results highlight the importance of encouraging media literacy skills in this day and age. It is of paramount importance that citizens are educated enough to discern fact from fiction.

For more details regarding the study contact

Dr. S. Shyam Sundar by e-mail at sss12@psu.edu or by telephone at (814) 865-2173

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