Media folks, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  The general public now believe overwhelmingly that news organizations are biases and subject to partisan agendas.

We used to joke in newsrooms that if we had both Democrats and Republicans calling to complain about our story, we were probably OK, but if only one side complained, we might have a problem.  It seems that both sides think we’re biased… towards the other.

Think about that for a minute.  Republicans think we skew Democrat.  Democrats think we skew Republican.  Logically, it can’t be both.

The advent of talk rating and partisan cable news programs that constantly call out the “mainstream media” for partisanship have certainly polarized people.  The people that have a steady diet of a particular viewpoint tend to have it reinforced enough that it becomes ingrained.

Here’s the stat:  70% of Americans agree that news organizations report stories in a one-sided manner, depending on who owns them.

bias in media poll

Like I said, we’ve got a lot of work to do.  The survey, by YouGov, posed the following hypothetical.  Given your beliefs, what if a news organization could demonstrate a track record of objectivity?  Would you be able to trust it as a news source? 67% said yes.  That means nearly a third wouldn’t trust media even if they could prove their objectivity in reporting. Republicans were less likely to trust media with a good track record (58%) than Democrats (83%).

bias 2

The “fake news” label has been thrown around a lot lately.  It’s a loose term directed not only at fake stories, but also at people that disagree with a viewpoint.  In fact, 44% of Americans believe the term itself – fake news – is used to refer to information they don’t like.

bias 3

So, it doesn’t matter to a large group of people whether it’s true or not, they’ll still call it fake.  As this study shows, that can translate into a perception of bias – whether one exists or not.

The Illusory Truth Effect

A study done by Yale University’s Department of Psychology, Department of Economics, and School of Management concluded that “even a single exposure (to fake news) increases perceptions of accuracy.” Here’s the kicker: Even when flagged as disputed by fact-checkers, or warned that the story might be fake, the perception of accuracy went up.

“Increased perceptions of accuracy for familiar fake news headlines occurs even when the stories are labeled as contested by fact checkers, or are inconsistent with the reader’s political ideology.”

fake news
Some of the Fake News Stories used in Yale Study

Familiarity = Perception of Accuracy

Even implausible stories and partisan claims become more believable with repetition, the study says. Critics of Fox News have long held that viewers put themselves in political echo chambers and isolated themselves from opposing views. The more exposure they had, the more they believed stories — even if implausible.

Increased Exposure = Increase Perception of Accuracy

If participants were familiar with a fake news headline, they rated it as more accurate than stories they weren’t familiar with. Even a single exposure, however, was sufficient to measure an increased perception of accuracy.

A second exposure to a fake news headline led to an even greater perception of accuracy. Researchers concluded that increased exposure has a compounding effect across time.

Warnings had no Negative Impact

Explicitly warning participants that the headlines had been disputed by third-party, independent fact-checkers, did not diminish the effect.

In fact, “becoming familiar with a fake news story by learning that it was disputed led to higher accuracy judgments compared to previously unfamiliar fake news stories,” according to the study.