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One More Thing That Lowers People's Trust in the News: Seeing Others' Ratings of Articles

Lack of trust in the news in the U.S. runs deep.
Freshly printed copies of the San Francisco Chronicle roll off the printing press.

Freshly printed copies of the San Francisco Chronicle roll off the printing press.

Trust in the news is at a new low. So what might work to get Americans to believe in the media again? As Facebook is busy asking its users to rate outlets on their trustworthiness, a new study suggests the answer might not be so simple.

The study, conducted by the Knight Foundation and Gallup, finds that, when study volunteers read news articles marked with ratings by their peers, they tended to rate articles as less trustworthy themselves. This finding held true even when the experimental news platform re-assured users that the outside ratings came from "people like you"—matched to the user in age, gender, party affiliation, and past user behavior.

"We don't know what it is that caused this," says Sam Gill, a Knight Foundation staffer who oversees research at the organization. In other words, researchers can't use this study to divine why the opinions of others apparently lower people's trust in news articles. But the results suggest distrust in the news runs pretty deep. "It may not be so simple to break people out of the cycle of decreasing trust in information," Gill says.

Previous work by the Knight Foundation offers a little reason to hope, however. In another recent Knight/Gallup study, researchers showed study volunteers news headlines and summaries rated as red, yellow, or green, in terms of reliability, as determined by a panel of journalists from varied backgrounds. Readers seemed to adjust their opinions of the news stories, based on their ratings. So there might be some tools that work to help regain public trust in the news.

Gill chalks it up to the idea that, despite stereotypes otherwise, people are savvy when they're surfing the Web: "Internet users know that the people that they encounter aren't always reliable."