Do populist or nativist sentiments impact the spread of fake news?
That was one of several questions Ipsos and The Trust Project set out to answer in a two-part global study. The short answer is yes, although perhaps in a bit of a chicken-and-egg way.
The study included a series of questions to discern populist and nativist attitudes to then see how people who held those views consumed media.
People who do not value expert opinions, a populist sentiment, are less likely to be willing and able to pay for news and much more likely to read only news they can access for free. Those who hold these views are more likely to trust news from people they only know on the internet (i.e., bloggers, influencers, chat boards, etc..) The problem is that quality news often sits behind a pay wall. Disinformation tends to be free, poorly ad-supported, and cheaply produced.
People who hold nativist views, e.g. the 36% who agree that “my country would be stronger if we stopped immigration,” are also more prone to trusting news from people they only know on the internet and to being confident in the average person’s ability to “tell real news from fake news.”
This suggests that many people who espouse populist and nativist views may be caught in a feedback loop: They are more likely to get their news from sketchy sources that propagate disinformation and conspiracy theories, which only reinforces their distrust of experts and their sense of powerlessness.
In today’s world, few disagree that their country is “targeted by other countries with disinformation and fake news” (only one in six) while nearly half agree. Among all countries surveyed, the United States is where agreement is highest, at 58%. It turns out that those who hold populist or nativist views are about equally likely as those who don’t to believe that their country is targeted by foreign powers with disinformation. However, the perceived threat is obviously not important enough for many people who distrust experts and feel disenfranchised to seek more reliable sources for their news.
All of this sets up a challenging set of circumstances for truth, trust and those who trade in it like the news media.