Telling Numbers: Do people trust online news? How Indians, others responded

Karishma Mehrotra
The India survey found that 55% of respondents were concerned that expressing political views online could get them in trouble with the authorities.

Two recent studies have found that less than half of online users trust the news they come across. A comparison between the two suggests that English speaking users in India trust online news overall less than users in other countries do, but they trust news found in search and social media more than those elsewhere do.

Both studies were conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University. The newer one covered more than 75,000 people in 38 markets (excluding India). The earlier one, released two months ago, was specific to India because Internet use is not yet widespread enough there to make our online sample directly comparable to the countries covered here (in the second report) . The India study was limited to a small subset of 1,013 English speakers and online users, and was not representative of the country, the report said.

The global study also found that except in Nordic countries, most people are not prepared to pay for online news today and on current trends look unlikely to pay in the future. Even in countries where consumers are paying for online news, they are still only limiting their subscriptions to one source, and in other countries, people are opting for entertainment subscriptions like Netflix or Spotify instead of news, it found.

Source: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University

In India, 36% of respondents trusted the news overall, including 45% in search and 34% in social media. In other markets, 42% of respondents trusted the news overall, with 33% trusting it in search and 23% in social media. Korea, France, Greece, and Hungary trust the news the least and Finland, Portugal, Denmark, and Netherlands trust it the most.

The India survey also found that 55% of respondents were concerned that expressing political views online could get them in trouble with the authorities.

India s English speakers were on par with other countries in misinformation and disinformation concerns. More than half (55%) in the new study were concerned about their ability to distinguish between real and fake on the Internet, with those in polarised countries such as Brazil, South Africa, and Mexico expressing more concern. In the India-specific study, 57% were concerned with this, while roughly half were concerned with hyper-partisan content.

The issue is related to challenges of rising populism, political and economic instability, along with intensifying concerns about giant tech companies , the study says. It is also raising new questions for journalists over how far to represent populist views, and how to satisfy a readership that no longer splits easily along traditional lines.

The global study found that populists are more inclined to television news than online news, dampening the role of social media in the rise of figures like Donald Trump. Populists are not more likely to use social media, but they are more likely to engage on social media, especially Facebook. The study measured populism by asking about the distance respondents feel from their elected representatives and how much they want people to make important decisions directly.

News consumers are less critical of the media s agenda-setting role (25%) and more concerned (39%) with the negative view that the media takes on events. Only half the respondents say the media helps them understand the news and 42% say the media fulfills a watchdog role. There were significant gaps between journalists’ and consumers perceptions.