Nowadays, disinformation and fake news have created a significant interest in raising news literacy among people. From educators to tech companies, there is a solid belief that by raising news literacy people would not only be more capable to separate fact from fiction, but also capable to potentially limit the spread of false information. In this logic, Dr. Richard Fletcher, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Reuters Institute of the University of Oxford, conducted a research across 18 countries, in an effort to examine how news literacy connects with the knowledge about how the news is made; who makes it, how it is selected and how it is financed.
In specific, respondents were asked 3 factual questions, in order to establish a proxy measure of news literacy and a series of multiple-choice questions. Each respondent’s level of news literacy was determined by the number of the correct answers on the multiple-choice questions. These data were combined along with other data from the survey, in order to witness differences in both attitudes and behaviors between those with high and low levels of news literacy. This in turn provided an indication of the possible effect that increasing news literacy could have.
In the first question, respondents had to identify from a list of television and print outlets, which news outlet is not primarily funded from advertising. Even though 52% of the countries identified correctly the public broadcaster, the results varied nationally, with higher figures in countries where the public broadcaster is by far the most widely used news source.
The second question asked who was typically accountable for writing a press release. Only 31% of respondents across all countries were able to answer this correctly, as around 1/4 of all countries incorrectly answered that press releases are written by journalists working for news organizations.
Last but not least, the third question asked about how news is selected on social media. The results were interesting as just only 29% correctly pointed out that most of the individual decisions about news people see on social media, are made by computer analysis of what stories might interest them. Furthermore, a 12% stated that these decisions were made by journalists working for news organizations and a 11% believes that Facebook employs journalists for this task.
By converting all of the mentioned above into a news literacy scale, Richard Fletcher concluded that news literacy is much lower than expected, as 32% of the countries surveyed did not answer any of the questions correctly, or just got one correct. In fact, only 10% answered all three questions accurately.
By focusing on people’s main source of news, the research identified for the people with higher levels of news literacy, the followings:
- They prefer newspaper brands, including their website and they rely less on social media.
- They are better able to use credibility cues to identify untrustworthy news on search and on social media.
- They tend to consume news from a wider range of sources. Thinking about online use only, they use on average roughly twice as many news brands each week as those with lower levels of news literacy.
At the same time, for the people with lower levels of news literacy, the research found out that:
- They mostly prefer television and television/radio websites.
- Low-quality news is primarily spread by people with low news literacy. However, this may be partly true, as both parties (high and low levels of news literacy) may share news that involve high numbers of engagement on social media.
The findings of this study conclude that we should focus on two things: first on educating people on news production and how it is made and secondly on establishing news trust. Another thing that should be highly considered is that ‘as search engines and social media become more important to the news ecosystem, any attempt to raise news literacy should also aim to improve the knowledge of both the positive and negative outcomes’.
You can read the survey here.
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