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Fake news, Facebook and Donald Trump: Why do just a quarter of Irish people trust the media?

Research has shown that public trust in the media is at a record low across the world.

Image: Shutterstock/Lawrey

A NEW POLL has found that just over a quarter of people in Ireland have trust in the media here.

The Claire Byrne Live/ Amárach Research poll questioned respondents on whether they trusted the media in Ireland.

At total of 27% of people said yes, they trusted the media. Over half of people (54%) said they didn’t, and 19% said they don’t know.

Research has shown that public trust in the media is at a record low across the world.

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer, published in March, showed that trust in media had fallen from 39% to 29% in Ireland, and that the media was now the least trusted institution in the country.

These results echo the findings of other polls and surveys across the world which point to people turning away from traditional news media sources.

Research presented at the World Economic Forum in January found that people were focusing on the internet and social media to get their news, rather than broadcast and print outlets.

Losing faith in the media

News organisations have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years with the rise of social media and people having a wealth of places from which to source their news.

According to Dr Jane Suiter, director of the Institute for Future Media and Journalism (FuJo), declining trust in the media should be seen within the context of people losing trust in many institutions.

“It’s not just media. Trust in institutions in general has been declining: Trust in politics, trust in the gardaí, trust in the church,” she said.

Obviously there’s sometimes good reasons for declining trust.

So the Victorian era or the world of the 1950s where you just unquestionably accepted authority has come to an end so that leads to declining trust.

Suiter said that people thinking critically is important, but that this lack of trust in traditional media (or mainstream media) can be taken advantage of.

“But on the other the hand, can lack of trust can also be abused as we saw with Trump, where people can targeted because of different reasons,” she said.

It very much depends on why the person doesn’t trust and it depends on what it is that they don’t trust.

A large part of US President Donald Trump’s election campaign focussed on attacking and undermining the traditional media, who he saw as treating him unfairly.

Since his election as president, Trump has continued to negatively attack the media, labelling reports “fake news” and threatening to curtail press freedoms.

Fake news

Fake news is defined as stories that are deliberately false or misleading. Entire websites – often with hundreds of thousands of followers – are dedicated to producing fake news.

As people turn away from traditional media sources, they are getting more of their news on social media where fake news sites are in abundance. Facebook in particular targets content to users that the company thinks they will like.

It is easy then for people to get trapped in a confirmation bias bubble, only seeing news that they find agreeable (a lot of which can be fake). Facebook came under strong criticism for failing to curtail the spread of fake news during the US election campaign.

“The weaponising of fake news and the deliberate targeting of people who are vulnerable erodes trust in all things,” said Suiter.

People need to be able to differentiate between the media and social media, between fact and opinion.

Suiter said that Facebook has a lot to do in terms of ensuring that people are receiving real news.

Trust in Ireland

The Press Ombudsman annual report was published yesterday.

Speaking at the launch, Sean Donlan, chairman of the Press Council said that Ireland continues to provide a generally reliable news service.

However, he said the growth and the popularity of social media needed to be addressed due to its unregulated nature.

Donlan said that Ireland had to work to address the problems posed by this new media.

Jane Suiter said that Irish publications needed to ensure they are a “trusted source”.

“The challenge for the Irish media is to be a trusted source. To be the outlet that people go to when they want to understand what it is that’s going on,” she said.

To do this, Suiter said that publications should be as transparent as possible when showing where they get information from and to be honest with their readership.

She said that Irish media needed to be more active in addressing the issues with trust in the media.

“I think people need to kick it into gear more… I think Brexit and Trump has served to underline the dangers posed.”

Importance of media 

The primary goal of the news media is to bring information to people.

This can been seen most recently with the Manchester Arena terrorist attack and the close relationship that has been fostered between Greater Manchester Police and the media there.

GMP has used news publications and broadcasters to disseminate information about their ongoing investigation. The police force has acknowledged the “vital role” the media plays in reporting on massive events like Manchester and has urged responsible reporting.

Suiter said that a free and active press was important and needed in order to show the populace what is going on in the world.

“There’s also just allowing people to see what is happening. Providing information,” said Suiter.

A free media is the one thing that’s between democracy and authoritarianism.

Read: Irish Independent apologises to Gerry Adams for ‘gunpoint’ story

Read: So what articles in the press had people complaining last year?

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About the author:

Cormac Fitzgerald

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