Fake news epidemic: Half of millennials struggle with news literacy

by | May 16, 2017 | Media, Public Relations

The ability to identify fake news and other false information has never been more important, which makes critical thinking skills a must—yet according to new national study from edtech firm MindEdge Learning, millennials struggle in this area.

The study, conducted by Research Now, probed the attitudes of 1,000 millennials who are currently in college or are recent graduates. The goal of the research was to evaluate this group’s critical thinking skills and determine whether they’re able to separate fake news from factual information. The results were not promising: 44 percent of respondents received a relative ‘F’ when it comes to these skills.

fake news statistics

Given the fact that 55 percent of millennials receive news through social media and 51 percent share news through social media, the ability to accurately filter facts is a necessity. Yet, according to the research, only 36 percent of those surveyed feel they are very well-trained in this area. The reach and impact of this issue is made clear by the fact that 37 percent of respondents admitted to sharing inaccurate information on social media.

fake news statistics

“These findings have significant ramifications, not only for the current fake news epidemic we’re facing, but also for millennials’ long-term success,” said Frank Connolly, a senior editor at MindEdge who oversaw the research, in a news release. “By 2020, the World Economic Forum anticipates critical thinking will be the second most important skill to exhibit, second only to complex problem solving. Our research finds that the current state of critical thinking among millennials—the largest and most connected generation yet—is lacking in a big way, and now is the time to address the issue.”

Here are some key takeaways from the study:

Millennials struggle to identify false content online

As part of the study, respondents took a basic, nine-question critical thinking test. The results found that many millennials are deficient in this area, with only 24 percent able to correctly answer eight to nine questions designed to gauge respondents’ ability to detect false or misleading content. This poor performance is not surprising given the fact that only about one-third of respondents (36 percent) feel confident they are very well-trained in this area. Those who took the survey reported that their peers are even less versed in this area, with only 20 percent of respondents describing their colleagues as very well-trained in critical thinking skills.

Millennials don’t feel their college education provided them with the skills they need to compete in the job market

While three out of five respondents (61 percent) report having studied critical thinking in college, another 13 percent were unsure if they had received any formal training in this area. Regardless of any relevant course work, only about one in three are very confident in their ability to identify false information. Almost half (46 percent) claim that critical thinking skills in assessing the accuracy and reliability of websites and online content are very important, while two-thirds (64 percent) say that critical thinking skills will be or are very important to their future job prospects.

Lack of news literacy leads to the spread of false information

The lack of confidence in critical thinking abilities also has crucial ramifications for the spread of inaccurate information by millennials via social media:

  • More than half of the surveyed consumers (55 percent) rely on social media for news.
  • Half of those surveyed share online content very/fairly often (51 percent).

“We see a silver lining in what are clearly disturbing findings,” said Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge. “Our key academic partners recognize this challenge and we’ve been working with them to incorporate digital literacy and critical thinking skills across the curriculum. Students can sharpen their critical thinking and can be better prepared for their civic and professional futures.”
MindEdge’s Critical Thinking Study was conducted online during the first two weeks of April 2017. The sample included 1,002 U.S. residents ages 19 to 30. The survey’s margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.

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