Unlocking the Potential of Fact-Checking: Bridging the Gap between Demand and Utilization
Although there is a strong demand amongst news audiences for help in verifying the truthfulness of information, in practice few people use the existing tools, according to research by Mérték Media Monitor, Medián and Political Capital. While some journalists take fact-checking into account when producing reports, others are resistant to it.
In the framework of the Hungarian Digital Media Observatory (HDMO) project, Mérték Media Monitor and Medián Public Opinion and Market Research Institute conducted a representative survey between 14-28 March 2023, by interviewing 1200 people via phone, to study news consumption and public information patterns. Political Capital – as a member of the HDMO consortium – carried out a separate section of the questionnaire to assess people's opinions and experiences with fact-checking. The main results of this survey section are presented below.
The main conclusions drawn from the few questions are:
1. A substantial proportion of news consumers have encountered fake news; the vast majority do not accept that the media tell lies, not even for a greater purpose. 53 percent of the respondents have encountered a situation, in which a political news source – they otherwise considered credible – was caught out to have deliberately told a lie. The publication of false information is considered unacceptable by a dominant proportion of the public (81%) for any purpose in media.
2. There is a strong demand for verifying the truthfulness of news and information among both pro-government and opposition voters. 73% of respondents have already felt the need to verify the veracity of a news item. Opposition party supporters expressed higher (82%) and Fidesz voters lower, but still substantial (65%) interest in having a reliable source to check questionable information. Looking at age groups, young adults aged 18-29 expressed the strongest (86%) demand for fact-checking, while those aged 60+ expressed the lowest (66%). In terms of education, people with primary education were significantly less likely (59%) to feel the need to fact-check the information they read. There were no significant differences across the other, higher educated groups.
3. The demand for fact-checking has limited expression in practical news consumption. Three quarters of the population have never used any fact-checking tools or methods. Five percent of respondents regularly use a fact-checking website, browser add-on or other tool to verify the veracity of a news item. A further 21% have already used one, but not regularly, on a few occasions. However, a large majority have not yet taken any steps at all to verify a news item they consider questionable. Across party preference groups, usage follows the pattern of demand, with a higher proportion (37%) among opposition voters and a lower proportion (15%) among pro-government voters. This is likely a result of the fact that opposition voters (who, according to Mérték’s research, are less trustful of the domestic media) are more suspicious of political news and information. The use of fact-checking tools increases with education level (39% of university graduates and only 13% of those with a primary education indicated that they had used a fact-checking tool). The effect of age is observed beyond the age of 50, with 21% among those aged 50-59 and 16% of those aged 60+ having checked the veracity of a news item. In younger age groups, the proportion was higher, ranging from 33-35%.
4. Google search is the most common method, while Lakmusz is the most used fact-checking website. Of those who use fact-checking tools and methods, Google search is the most frequently used method to check the veracity of information they find suspicious. Others consult foreign media that are perceived to be more reliable, while others use Facebook for this purpose. The Lakmusz/444.hu duo is also mentioned in a similar proportion, making it the most frequently used fact-checking site.
Most often used tools and methods (font size proportional to the frequency of mention)
5. The impact of fact-checking on the actors in the media is already noticeable, but not everybody is receptive to it. Our study "Pro-Russian propaganda in the mainstream, anti-vaccination on the fringes" shows that some journalists and newsrooms take fact-checking into account in their editorial work – for example, removing a news item if it turns out to be false. Government-controlled media, however, are largely immune to fact-checking, and there is even a tendency to challenge the legitimacy of this approach and to portray fact-checkers as the kind of enemy – although this view is also expressed beyond the government camp. Facebook's built-in fact-checking alert system indeed works, albeit in a limited and often imperfect way. Furthermore, there are aware and active users who use fact-checking as an argument in the comment section of Facebook. The results of the current research show that the majority of news consumers consider it important – if not necessarily practiced – to verify the truthfulness of news.