2016: Year of Fake News – Millennials value trust in news, but are sometimes willing to overlook it

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We’re at the foothill of a new year, and I find myself continuing to want to understand Millennials a little better, so I’m revisiting an Invoke Xperience session (the session can be seen here) focused on understanding Millennial perceptions and behaviors regarding the news they consume. This session relied on traditional “Invokian” methods and lines of qualitative and quantitative questioning to uncover some interesting tidbits about what’s important to Millennials and how this impacts where they source their news and stay up-to-date on current events.  In light of the recent “fake” news phenomenon, I think this is the perfect time to take another look at this study.

The full report can be found here.

First off, Millennials are extremely concerned with staying up-to-date on current events. 96% of Millennials think it’s important to stay up-to-date on things happening in the news. And furthermore, 57% of these Millennials say they check the news at least 3-5 times a day. So, obviously this is a group concerned with current events.

When asked what characteristics they look for in a news source (open-ended), they often use words such as “unbiased,” “accurate,” “trustworthy” and “up-to-date.” These themes of trust and being up-to-date popped up throughout the session as we delved deeper.

Most important news source characteristics for Millennials

I specifically asked Millennials what sources they trust most and even explored how trust levels are affected by different reporting styles – Is CNN, for example, more trusted than Bill O’Reilly or Jon Stewart (pre-retirement of course)? (It is, though Jon Stewart was found to be a tad more likable). However, Millennials also often talk about trust or in some cases the lack thereof – when talking about the news.  As I said previously, Millennials do find it important to stay up-to-date on current events, but several of them say they have a hard time trusting the news completely.

“I realize that it’s important to know what’s going on in the world around you, but I’ve come to realize that it’s not always easy to trust the news you hear, so I often take news with a grain of salt.”

So trust appears to be a concern for Millennials (good news in a world of fake news), but it seems like this is often due to a feeling of it lacking when it comes to many sources. When I asked Millennials to rank news sources by how much they trust them, local news and online websites were most often ranked #1 while social media is most often ranked last (41% rank social media as their least trusted source).

News sources – ranked by trustworthiness

Social media, however, brings up an interesting point. Because while social media is ranked low on being trustworthy, it rates high on how frequent Millennials are checking it for news (69% say they are checking it at least daily, putting it just behind online websites for this type of frequency). And for those looking for more specifics, 78% of Millennials are using Facebook for news and 44% are using Twitter, which make these the most oft-used social networks for news.

How often are Millennials checking specific news sources?

“Sometimes I think anyone could just go onto social media and post whatever they want without a reliable source. I’m reluctant to believe the first article I read about a topic when I see it on social media.”

There are 1.79 billion people using Facebook each month worldwide, which is a staggering number considering its technology, and despite its popularity, its “good intentions fueled the rise of fake news in 2016.” BuzzFeed’s media editor, Craig Silver, puts it beautifully when he states, “Conspiracy theories, hoaxes, anonymous messaging … these things have always been around and circulating…But Facebook is a game changer because of its size.”

So if trust is so low, then why are people relying on social networks specifically for news so frequently? When asked for benefits of social media, Millennials often note how social media has the most up-to-date news, offers the opportunity to share and collaborate on news with others and/or how accessible it is from at virtually anytime, from virtually anywhere.

“You generally can find out if something has happened faster through friends and family posting about it online.”

There are many stereotypes out there surrounding Millennials. One common perception is that this generation, the first to pretty much grow up with the Internet and other services that provide on-demand content and access to information, expects this from all facets of life. For many reading this post, this data may support this stereotype. But I think the more interesting thing is how Millennials filter their world. This data suggests to me that this generation may be taking in and even sharing false information, but they appear to regard this information with a good degree of distrust and cynicism. Perhaps another side effect of growing up with the Internet and its unfiltered access to many truths, I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing for this generation. This type of shrewdness could further push not only news sources but maybe brands, politicians and even individuals to be more truthful as they come to realize that Millennials have their bull-detection meters seem set to high.  2017 will certainly be an interesting year in the world of news—at least for Millennials.

Those looking to speak to this generation may want to keep that in mind.

Yours truthfully,

Wayne

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