Current reading: Distinguishing Between Factual and Opinion Statements In The News

This was a Pew Center report from May which showed “the politically aware, digitally savvy and those more trusting of the news media fare better; Republicans and Democrats both influenced by political appeal of statements.”

I got as far as the executive summary when it came out, but am working my way through the longer report at the moment. My memory on the work was jogged by a Pew tweet with a brief quiz asking if the reader can identify five factual and five opinion items:

The dependence upon “trust” in source is both unsurprising and more than a little bit concerning, as it opens up not only a sliding interpretation for what “facts” are, but also a window of undue influence for bad-faith actors which may be perceived as trusted news sources despite partisan hackery, inadequate standards, or other issues of veracity.

Trust in those who do the reporting also matters in how that statement is interpreted. Almost four-in-ten Americans who have a lot of trust in the information from national news organizations (39%) correctly identified all five factual statements, compared with 18% of those who have not much or no trust. However, one other trait related to news habits — the public’s level of interest in news — does not show much difference. (Geiger, A., 2018)

As the study author points out, the study is not a news quiz, per se, but rather a snapshot to determine how news consumers determine and depend upon objectivity in evidence collection as a defining parameter in the collection and dissemination of facts as opposed to less empyrical methods or sources. And, this being the time we live in, there’s a political tribe component to the data, with the willingness to accept facts being tied to political beliefs and priors.

Age also plays a role, with a followup report showing younger people are more adept at recognizing fact from opinion:

But before the younguns start puffing their chests, the numbers are still pretty bleak with regard to being able to identify facts — it’s slightly better for opinion, oddly:

About a third of 18- to 49-year-olds (32%) correctly identified all five of the factual statements as factual, compared with two-in-ten among those ages 50 and older. A similar pattern emerges for the opinion statements. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, 44% correctly identified all five opinion statements as opinions, compared with 26% among those ages 50 and older. (Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., & Sumida, N., 2018)

I’m wondering how media consumption habits play into that generational disparity, but that’s reading for another time. Meanwhile, here’s the quiz if you want to check your fact/opinion eye, complete with a sad question about Barack Obama’s heritage.

Citations

Geiger, A. (2018, October 23). Younger Americans are better than older Americans at telling factual news statements from opinions. Retrieved October 24, 2018, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/10/23/younger-americans-are-better-than-older-americans-at-telling-factual-news-statements-from-opinions/

Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., & Sumida, N. (2018, June 28). Can Americans Tell Factual From Opinion Statements in the News? Retrieved October 24, 2018, from http://www.journalism.org/2018/06/18/distinguishing-between-factual-and-opinion-statements-in-the-news/