The rise of misinformation poses complex challenges for society today. Recent statistics highlight that fabricated content has proliferated across digital and traditional media formats. From false pandemic cures propagated by bots to fake news shared unknowingly by citizens, misinformation has permeated the information ecosystem. This proliferation has been enabled by political agendas, social media micro-targeting, clickbait incentives, deepfake technology, and more.
The result is declining public trust, threats to democratic discourse, and an imperative for collaborative solutions that uphold truth-telling while maintaining free expression. This analysis aims to make sense of the so-called "infodemic" by showcasing key data on the sources, spread, and impacts of misinformation in media in 2023. Quantifying the prevalence provides crucial context for tackling this concerning trend.
- Most Americans believe social media news contains bias. In the 2018 survey on perceived bias in the news on social media, 66% of U.S. consumers stated they believed 76% or more of the news on social media to be biased.
- Bots pose a major threat, accounting for up to 66% of accounts spreading COVID-19 misinformation online. This "infodemic" risks impacting public health outcomes.
- 47% of Americans have encountered fake news in print media, underscoring misinformation is not just an online issue.
- Over a third of Americans admit to unintentionally sharing false content on social media. This human tendency to spread misinformation amplifies the problem.
- Deepfake videos are skyrocketing, with over 500,000 estimated on social media in 2023 alone. As this technology improves, visual misinformation could significantly impact elections.
- Politicians are frequent sources of media criticism, with 58% of Americans citing politicians attacking the media. In Mexico and the Philippines, presidents routinely criticize the "mainstream media."
- 49% cite social media as a main source of criticism about the news media, illustrating how criticism can now spread rapidly on social platforms.
- While trust in news media varies globally, it remains highest in Scandinavian countries like Finland (69% trust). Greece has the lowest levels of media trust (19%).
- Support is growing for tech companies and the government to take action against false information, with over half of Americans approving restrictions. But concerns remain over limits on press freedom.
- The vast majority of journalists view misinformation as a serious threat. However, most oppose licensing schemes, highlighting the need for collaborative solutions balancing truth-telling with free expression.
Audience Perspectives on Misinformation and Trust
Understanding public opinion and perception of the news media is crucial for tackling the misinformation crisis. Declining trust in journalism threatens the media's role as providers of credible information. The proliferation of false content and growing concerns around bias have shaped negative audience attitudes. Quantifying these perspectives highlights the scope of the credibility deficit news organizations face today.
- The term "fake news" began to surge in popularity in November 2016 and peaked in 2018. Searches have declined globally since March 2019, but it remains a query.
- A U.S. survey found that most American adults believe most news on social media is biased. In the 2018 survey on perceived bias in the news on social media, 66% of U.S. consumers stated they believed 76% or more of the news on social media to be biased.
Reasons for declining trust include the spread of fake news, with adults worldwide realizing stories were fake after believing them at first.
- 60% globally say they see news organizations deliberately reporting false stories very or fairly regularly.
- A survey on the level of trust in selected media sources worldwide in 2018 by region indicates that 65 percent of respondents from North America stated that they trusted traditional media to provide general news and information.
- 82% in Argentina report seeing deliberately false stories at least fairly often, compared to only 30% in Germany, 36% in Japan, and 39% in South Korea.
- 48% across 27 countries have been fooled by fake news, believing a false story was real until later finding out it was fabricated.
- 62% of Brazilians say they've believed a fake news story at some point, higher than other countries.
Impact of misinformation
The rise of misinformation online poses major challenges for journalists and threatens to undermine public trust in the media. The following statistics highlight journalists' deep concerns about fabricated content, constraints on press freedom, and their efforts to combat false information. Though views on mainstream media's trustworthiness are polarized, journalists broadly agree on the harm posed by the spread of mis- and disinformation.
- A majority of journalists (60%) express high levels of concern regarding possible limitations being placed on press freedoms in the United States.
- In a survey, 94% of journalists said made-up news and information is a significant problem in America today, with 71% calling it a very big problem and 23% a moderately big problem. Only 6% said it is a small problem or not a problem.
- Nearly all journalists surveyed (94%) believe fabricated news and information is a serious issue today, with about 7 in 10 characterizing it as an extremely big problem.
- 58% discuss misinformation with colleagues at least several times a month, and about a third deal with false information fairly often in their work.
- 97% believe that the spread of misinformation/disinformation is harmful to society.
- Trust in mainstream news media is polarized - 30% of all respondents find it highly trustworthy, but only 7% of "very conservative" respondents agree.
Social media and misinformation
Social media sites have been influential in the widespread of news and information, including fake news. Statistics show many people see and spread misinformation from social media, highlighting the need for solutions.
- There are 4.9 billion social media users globally.
- 38.2% of U.S. news consumers surveyed in December 2020 reported having unknowingly shared fake news or misinformation on social media, while a similar share had not done so, and 7% were unsure if they had shared fake news.
- On the other hand, a survey found 16% overall said news content on Twitter is accurate, but nearly 40% of respondents identifying as "very liberal" said Twitter news is accurate, compared to only around 14% of those identifying as "very conservative." 19% of "very conservative" respondents said news content on YouTube is accurate, while 33% said it’s inaccurate.
Bots and Misinformation
Understanding the role of bots in spreading misinformation during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial for combatting the resulting "infodemic" and its potential impacts on public health outcomes. The following statistics highlight the scope of bot involvement in propagating inaccurate pandemic content and the techniques they employ to spread falsehoods.
- The rapid spread of COVID-19 was accompanied by an "infodemic" - an overwhelming proliferation of accurate and inaccurate information on social media platforms.
- The proliferation of COVID-19 misinformation by bots, coupled with the human tendency to believe and share false information, may impact the trajectory of the pandemic. Past literature has shown that automated accounts, or bots, play a significant role in spreading misinformation during crises like the pandemic. Analysis of known bot datasets found up to 66% of bots discussing COVID-19, indicating their heavy involvement in spreading pandemic (mis)information. Strategies used by bots to spread misinformation include amplification, phishing links, discrediting legitimate sources, and promoting unproven treatments.
- A March 2020 study found that around 47% of surveyed U.S. adults had encountered a lot or some made-up news about coronavirus, showing the circulation of fake pandemic news.
- More right-leaning audiences reported seeing made-up pandemic news than Democrats - 16% of Republicans vs 23% of left-leaning news consumers.
The following statistics highlight the significant portion of US adults who have shared misleading content online, knowingly or not, and the persistence of fabricated reporting in newspapers and magazines. Understanding the reach of misinformation across media formats provides context on the scale of the problem.
- A December 2020 survey found that 38.2% of U.S. news consumers had unknowingly shared fake news or misinformation on social media. A similar share (38.2%) said they had not shared fake news, while 7% were unsure if they had.
- 47% of Americans reported seeing fake news in newspapers and magazines as of January 2019, showing misinformation is not limited to online media.
- Younger groups consume more news videos through social networks but are less likely to access videos through news websites or applications. The following graph depicts how 18-24s have leaned towards social media use in recent years, along with the growth of short TikTok videos, Instagram Reels, and YouTube Shorts.
- In a survey on where people encounter fake news, 67% cited Facebook, 65% cited social media generally, and 60% cited the internet overall. Fewer respondents reported seeing fake news in traditional media like print, television, or mainstream news sources.
Deepfake technology uses artificial intelligence to create fabricated audio and video content that appears authentic. Highly realistic deepfakes are possible due to advances in AI generative models.
There is a growing concern about the proliferation of political deepfakes ahead of the 2024 U.S. presidential election. The ability of deepfakes to spread misinformation poses serious challenges for content moderation and could significantly impact the election. Understanding the scale of deepfake creation and dissemination underscores the need for solutions to detect and mitigate this concerning trend.
- The volume of both video and voice deepfakes has surged year over year, with voice deepfakes increasing even more dramatically. According to DeepMedia, there are 3x more video deepfakes and 8x more voice deepfakes in 2023 vs. 2022.
- Per DeepMedia's estimate, about 500,000 total video and voice deepfakes will be shared on social media globally this year.
Misinformation outside the US
Recent statistics indicate concerning trends in perceptions of news bias and the proliferation of false content worldwide. From skepticism around citizens' regard for facts to the spread of bogus pandemic cures, the "infodemic" has impacted nations across borders.
- 60% globally believe the average person in their country doesn't care about facts on politics/society anymore, just believing what they want. This rises to 71% in Peru, 70% in Serbia, 69% in Turkey, and 68% in the US.
- Italians (48% agree), Japanese (49%), and Chinese (49%) have more faith in citizens' interest in facts than other countries surveyed.
- In the Philippines, 46% cite politicians and activists attacking journalists as communists/terrorists. Mexico's president AMLO routinely exposes "fake stories" in the mainstream press.
- Politicians are most often cited for criticizing the media, particularly in the US (58%), where phrases like "fake news media" are used to deflect accountability. Criticizing the media has become a political tactic to deflect criticism and intimidate investigations. 49% cite social media as where they see/hear media criticism, 36% from offline conversations, and 35% from other media outlets.
- 65% think that other people live in a bubble on the internet, mostly looking for opinions they already agree with – BUT only 34% say they live in their own bubble. -
- 59% have more confidence in their understanding of issues like immigration and crime rates than the average person in their country.
- 76% of Turks and 75% of Indians are particularly confident they are better informed than the average citizen in their country.
- 58% of online Britons think they have a better grasp of reality than the average British person.
- A study held in early 2023 found that between 30 and 45 percent of surveyed consumers in selected countries worldwide had witnessed false or misleading COVID-19 news in the week running to the survey, with U.S. and Slovakian respondents most affected. Suspicious or false political news was also a problem, particularly in the United States, and Slovakian consumers were the most likely to have seen false information about the war in Ukraine.
- A global study found Scandinavians have high trust in news media - 69% of Finns, 57% of Danes, and 53% of Norwegians.
- South Korea, Taiwan, Hungary, Slovakia, and Bulgaria ranked lowest in news media trust, with insufficient media independence.
- Greece had the lowest news media trust globally, at 19% of consumers.
Tackling the spread of false information online poses challenges around who bears responsibility and how best to combat bogus content. The following statistics examine public perceptions of who should fight misinformation, preferred strategies for identifying credible information, and support for restricting false content. Views are shifting on the role of tech companies and the government in limiting the reach of misinformation.
- 1/3 of people say journalists and media organizations bear the highest burden in debunking bogus information; nearly as many (31%) said citizens are most responsible.
- The most common practice for filtering out bogus content is considering the credibility of the source, at 62% of respondents.
- Nearly one in five men said they would publicly confront someone they didn’t know about sharing inaccurate content, while only about half as many women said the same.
- People naturally strongly support imposing financial/legal penalties on journalists who spread malicious disinformation.
- 65% support tech companies restricting false information online, up from 56% in 2018.
- 55% support the U.S. government restricting false information online, up from 39% in 2018.
- Democrats are more supportive than Republicans of restricting false information and violent content.
- Older adults are more supportive than younger adults of restricting false information and violent content. 60% support the U.S. government restricting extremely violent content, while 71% support tech companies restricting extremely violent content.
- The partisan gap has grown since 2018 in support for restricting false information.
Journalist Sentiment on False Information
The Pew Research Center surveyed journalists in 2022 to gauge their perspectives on misinformation and the future of press freedoms.
- A survey of journalists found 33% are extremely concerned and 24% are very concerned about potential restrictions on press freedoms in the U.S.
- 20% express low levels of concern about potential restrictions on press freedoms.
- About one-third (33%) of journalists encounter false or fabricated information regularly when working on stories, with 8% saying they deal with falsehoods extremely often and 24% fairly often.
- Despite most journalists feeling confident in their ability to recognize falsehoods (71% extremely or very confident), over a quarter (26%) of reporters have still unknowingly propagated false information by reporting on stories later proven untrue.
- 60% say their news organization lacks formal guidance on handling false information.
- Twice as many journalists support reporting on public figures' false claims rather than ignoring them. 64% of journalists believe news organizations should report on public figures' false or made-up statements because the public needs to know, while 32% think news organizations should not report on such statements because it gives attention to falsehoods and the public figure.
- 66% say almost none of their stories in the past year were about misinformation.
- 74% oppose requiring journalists to have a license to practice journalism.
Though journalists express concern about threats to press freedom and lack confidence in current efforts to address false content, they remain committed to reporting truthfully. With misinformation prevalent across media formats and platforms, collaborative solutions will be needed between tech companies, the government, journalists, and the public. Ongoing research into the spread and impacts of false information will inform strategies for fighting misinformation while upholding free expression. Though the infodemic shows no signs of abating, insights from data can empower society to stem the tide.
The data presents an infodemic propagated through digital channels and platforms. On sites like Facebook and Twitter, misinformation has become rampant, enabled by factors ranging from bots to clickbait incentives. The rise of AI-generated deepfakes poses additional threats to truth in the digital space.
The fallout is a crisis of credibility undermining democratic discourse online. Though perspectives differ on solutions, agreement exists on the harm posed by false content proliferating through the internet and social media.
Restoring trust will necessitate collective action by the government, tech companies, journalists, and citizens. Media literacy, algorithmic transparency, robust fact-checking, and prudent content moderation represent starting points. But censorship concerns remain.
While solutions upholding truth-telling without sacrificing free expression won't come easily, insights from data can guide policies. With misinformation rapidly evolving across formats and borders, ongoing monitoring is critical. Stemming the tide demands a societal commitment to facts and objectivity. Though the infodemic continues unabated, hope persists for reversing this crisis of credibility by addressing root causes.
Where do people encounter the most criticism of the media?
49% of respondents cited social media as the top source of media criticism, followed by 36% citing offline conversations.
What percentage cite other media as a source of media criticism?
35% cited other media outlets like TV and radio as sources of media criticism.
Which news source is least trusted globally?
Social media is seen as the least trustworthy news source.
What is the impact of bots on COVID-19 misinformation?
Bots account for up to 66% of accounts spreading pandemic misinformation.
How common is sharing fake news unintentionally?
Over a third of Americans have shared false content without realizing it.
How prevalent are deepfake videos online?
Estimates show over 500,000 deepfakes on social media in 2023.
Where is trust in news media highest globally?
Scandinavian countries like Finland have the highest levels of trust.
How many journalists are concerned about limits on press freedom?
60% of journalists express concern over restrictions on press freedoms.
What percentage of journalists view fake news as a serious problem?
94% of journalists see fabricated information as a serious issue.