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The toll of misinformation in an era of disruption

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In this two-part series, we will dissect the conditions that have enabled misinformation to proliferate, discuss how to overcome the obstacles to consensus, and chart a way forward.

Quality journalism is under attack from all sides, but never has it been more essential. During times of upheaval, credible reporting at the local and national levels play a vital role in society’s ability to take collective action. But what happens when misinformation becomes so prevalent that we are unable to recognize when the truth is actually true?

76% of us believe we have seen news that contradicts what we believe to be true. Tellingly, we’re exposed to misinformation on the platforms we spend the most time with such as social networks, and from sources we should trust most, like the President or News organizations.

HOW MISINFORMATION LEADS TO CONTRACTION

During a time where trust is essential to global health and the national economy, the expansive stream of misinformation narrows and localizes it.

With trust eroding, so goes our expectations and faith in larger society to do the right thing. As a result, we start placing the bulk of our trust only in ourselves and our families.

In moments of crisis such as the coronavirus pandemic trust beyond the individual level becomes imperative to solving the collective problem—this requires trustworthy journalism at a local and national scale.

WHY CONTRACTION OF TRUST IS THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT WE NEED

The phenomenon of contraction back to self is not new. If you think about the past two decades, social platforms have celebrated a narrative of individualism. However, the problems we face as a society are too big to tackle individually or at the household level.

In part II we’ll examine the point in which consensus begins to break down and chart a path forward.

Methodology

A survey was commissioned to 2000 consumers in August 2020. Our partner, The Circus, is an insight and data storytelling consultancy that specializes in original trend research, thought leadership, and strategic brand positioning rooted in a human-data centric approach.

James Bareham / Vox Media

Edwin Wong is Senior Vice President, Insights & Innovation at Vox Media, the leading independent modern media company known for building the best media brands and the technology that enables them. He leads research to identify key trends in consumer behavior and help advertisers capitalize on these trends to effectively connect with their core audiences. He has been studying digital consumer behavior for nearly 20 years and has held previous roles at BuzzFeed, Pinterest and Yahoo.