Most Americans say misinformation fuels extremism and hatred

(AP) – Americans from all political backgrounds say misinformation increases political extremism and hate crimes, according to a new poll that reflects broad and significant concerns about false and misleading allegations ahead of the midterm elections. next month.

About three-quarters of American adults say misinformation leads to more extreme political views and behaviours such as cases of violence based on race, religion or gender. That’s according to the Pearson Institute and Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

“We are now at a point where the misinformation is so bad that you can trust very little of what you read in the media or on social media,” said Republican Brett Reffeitt, 49, of Indianapolis, who has participated in the survey. “It’s about getting clicks, not the truth, and it’s the extremes that get the attention.”

Pearson Institute/AP-NORC survey shows that regardless of political ideology, Americans agree disinformation leaves a mark in the country.

Overall, 91% of adults say the spread of misinformation is a problem, with 74% calling it a major problem. Only 8% say misinformation is not a problem at all.

Large majorities in both parties — 80% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans — say misinformation increases extreme political views, the survey found. Similarly, 85% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans say misinformation increases hate crimes, including violence motivated by gender, religion or race.

Overall, 77% of respondents think misinformation increases hate crimes, while 73% say it increases extreme political views.

“It’s not a sustainable course,” said independent Rob Redding, 46, of New York. Redding, who is black, said he fears misinformation will spur increased political polarization and violent hate crimes. “People are so in denial about how dangerous and divisive this situation is.”

About half say they think misinformation leads people to become more politically engaged.

About 7 in 10 Americans say they are at least somewhat worried about being exposed to misinformation, although less than half said they were worried about being responsible for spreading it.

This is in line with previous polls which revealed people are more likely to blame others than accept responsibility for spreading misinformation.

Half of American adults also believe misinformation reduces trust in government.

“Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true,” said Shirley Hayden, 74, a Republican from Orange, Texas. “A lot of these are opinions and a lot of them are just troubles. I do not believe it anymore. »

Poll finds Americans who see misinformation as a major problem are more likely to say it contributes to extreme political beliefs and distrust of government than those who do not. They are also more likely to try to reduce the spread of misinformation by running claims through multiple sources or fact-checking websites.

Overall, about three-quarters of adults say they’ve decided not to share something on social media at least once in a while because they didn’t want to spread misinformation, with about half doing so most time. Similar percentages regularly check the news sources they come across and check other news sources to make sure they don’t come across misinformation.

Only 28% of Americans use fact-checking sites or tools “most of the time,” although another 35% do so occasionally. About a third say they rarely or never do so.

“My Facebook page is full of this stuff. I see it on TV. I see it everywhere,” Democrat Charles Lopez, 63, of the Florida Keys said of the misinformation he encounters. “Nobody does the research to find out if something is wrong or not.”

Whether it be 2020 election lies Where the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol, COVID-19 conspiracy theories Where misinformation about the Russian invasion of Ukraineonline misinformation has been blamed for increased political polarization, distrust of institutions and even real world violence.

The spread of disinformation in recent decades has coincided with the rise of social media and the decline of traditional media, often local journalism outlets.

The Pearson Institute/AP-NORC poll results came as no surprise to Alex Mahadevan, director of MediaWise, a media literacy initiative launched by the Poynter Institute that aims to equip individuals with defenses in the fight against misinformation.

“You have the uncertainty, the polarization, the decline of local news: it’s a perfect storm that has created a flood of misinformation,” Mahadevan said.

According to Helen Lee Bouygues, founder and president of the Paris-based Reboot Foundation, which researches and promotes critical thinking in the internet age, people can teach themselves to spot misinformation and avoid falling into the trap. trap dubious claims.

First, rely on a variety of trusted and established sources for news and fact checksBouygues said.

She also encouraged people to double-check claims that seem designed to play on emotions like anger or fear, and to think twice before reposting content that relies on heavy language, personal attacks or false comparisons. .

“There are steps people can take — simple steps — to protect themselves,” Bouygues said.

Lopez, the Florida survey respondent, said he had lost friends after pushing back against the misinformation they posted online and that new laws were needed to force tech companies to do more to combat it. misinformation. Maybe that will happen, he said, if voters can cut through the fog of misinformation ahead of next month’s election.

“You can always have hope,” Lopez said. “We will see what happens after this election. You may want to call me back then.

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Associated Press writer Nuha Dolby in New York contributed to this report.

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The poll of 1,003 adults was conducted Sept. 9-12 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.

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Follow the AP’s misinformation coverage on https://apnews.com/hub/misinformation.

Learn more about the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at www.apnorc.org.

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