Political lean influences believability


Posted 12/6/17

The phrase "fake news" has become a part of the American lexicon over the past year, and now a group of Lee University students have taken a deep dive into the numbers to discover exactly how their …

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Political lean influences believability


The phrase "fake news" has become a part of the American lexicon over the past year, and now a group of Lee University students have taken a deep dive into the numbers to discover exactly how their colleagues feel about news sources in general.

Dr. Michael Ray Smith, a professor of communications at Lee University, gave his class an assignment which collected the opinions of 117 Communication Arts students at the college. The survey asked them what news sources are consistently accurate and which are "fake news."

The results may surprise some who have preconceived notions of the "next generation" and their perceived reliance on social media.

"I teach a research class and one of the three projects we do is a survey," Smith explained. "The students gave me some ideas, but I said let's do fake news."

Smith said there are 496 students in the Communication Arts department, and his class used that mailing list to reach out for their opinions.

"Out of the 496 [CA students], 117 responded, which is a good, valid sample for social scientific purposes," he said. "We feel we captured a good portion of what the students think. We spent lots of time talking about the findings."

Out of the 117 students who responded to the survey, 71.79 percent were female, 36.75 percent were seniors and 62.39 percent were Republicans. The largest majority were seniors.

Smith presented the research paper of one of his students, Ashley Cline, that summarized the findings of the poll.

Cline's deduction from the respondents was that the political leanings of a person are likely to skew the person's preferred news source.

She found that a Republican will be more likely to believe sources like Fox News over MSNBC, whereas a Democrat might lean more toward MSNBC. The survey did not cover another definition of fake news, which is deliberate misinformation or hoaxes presented as legitimate news.

"It was unsurprising that when asked which of the news media the participant found to be consistently accurate, Fox received a higher score than MSNBC," Cline wrote. "46.96 percent of students said they either agreed or strongly agreed what Fox was consistently accurate, while only 23.85 percent said they agreed or strongly agreed that MSNBC was consistently accurate."

The survey also found that 75 percent of the respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed that social media sources are consistently accurate.

"This means that it is mostly agreed on across the board [among the survey respondents] that social media is consistently inaccurate," Cline wrote.

"I think that a lot of the students that took this are just coming into college," Cline said during an interview. "They are relying on information their parents have told them. So I think when it comes to the junior and senior level, it becomes more self-discovery. You start stepping outside of what you have been told, and you start looking at other places."

"I think the biggest thing we found is that college-age students, which were the subject of this survey, aren't just taking everything they see and hear as the truth," she added. "They are taking time to dig a little deeper to find out for themselves what they believe and what they find accurate.


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