Pew Survey: Will We Ever Overcome “Fake News”?

The Pew Research Center asked thousands of academic, business, and technology experts to weigh in on whether online information will get more accurate over the next decade. They offered mixed responses—along with a lot of smart thinking.

Is it possible that we’ll find a way past all the misinformation problems that have dogged the digital experience recently?

The Pew Research Center was curious about this question. And in its new report, “The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online,” it assembles the perspectives of some really smart people on the long-term impact of the “post-truth” era.

Pew reached out to a wide array of experts—more than 8,000 in all—to see whether they believed the information environment would improve in the next decade, particularly in ways that would reduce the spread of misinformation online. Of the 1,116 who responded, slightly more than half (51 percent) said it would not, while the rest said it would.

Pew asked the experts for their insights on what’s next for information in the age of “fake news.” Five major themes emerged:

  • Many respondents believed that basic human nature will prevent improvement in the information environment.
  • Others suggested technology will create hurdles to improving the misinformation problem at scale.
  • Those who predicted improvement believe that advances in technology will help users better judge and filter misinformation.
  • Others said people will adjust to the environment and improve it in the long run.
  • Some respondents favor funding and supporting efforts to produce accurate information and expand information literacy.

The report includes responses from a number of notable officials, including American Press Institute Director Tom Rosenstiel, the American Library Association’s James LaRue, Online News Association President Joshua Hatch, and a variety of professors, business leaders, and officials who have a broad range of experience with the internet and the way that information spreads online.

Rosenstiel was skeptical that publishers and journalists will be able to stay ahead of parties with an interest in spreading false information.

“Whatever changes platform companies make, and whatever innovations fact checkers and other journalists put in place, those who want to deceive will adapt to them,” he said, according to Pew. “Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix. It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to.”

LaRue, who heads ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, noted that technical solutions could raise new concerns, particularly about privacy.

“Information systems incentivize getting attention. Lying is a powerful way to do that,” he said. “To stop that requires high surveillance—which means government oversight, which has its own incentives not to tell the truth.”

ONA’s Hatch shared a more positive view. “I’m slightly optimistic because there are more people who care about doing the right thing than there are people who are trying to ruin the system,” he said. “Things will improve because people—individually and collectively—will make it so.”

What do you think? Is fake news just a fact of life, now and in the future? Share your take in the comments.

(marekuliasz/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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