NEWS23 April 2019

Majority want spreading fake news a crime

Brexit Media News UK

UK – Three quarters of British adults think it should be a criminal offence to deliberately spread fake news according to research from Ipsos Mori for King’s College London.

Fake news online_crop

Seven in 10 people surveyed said they worried about the influence of fake news on a further referendum or election.

For the research, fake news was defined as ‘deliberately untrue information disguised as news stories with the intention of deceiving people'. Thirty-nine percent strongly agreed it should be a criminal offence to spread fake news deliberately, and a further 36% tended to agree.

There was strong agreement across all age groups, but older participants were particularly likely to agree. Among those who said that they use online news sites as their main source of news, 73% were in favour and only 9% against.

The worry about how fake news might influence voting was strongest among Remainers. Those who said that they voted Remain in the 2016 referendum on EU membership were especially likely to agree with the statement ‘I am worried that fake news could influence the result of an election or referendum in Britain’ ( 78% to 8%). But Leave voters also agreed by a substantial margin ( 65% to 17%) that they are worried.

People who voted Labour at the 2017 general election are more likely to agree ( 77%), and especially more likely to agree strongly ( 38%), than Conservative voters ( 66% and 23% respectively).

Almost a third ( 31%) of respondents thought fake news was ‘easy to spot and should never fool you if you are careful', but 36% disagree. Those who say that social media is their main source of news are significantly more likely ( 41%) than anybody else to believe that fake news is easy to spot. Only around one person in four, 27%, admits that ‘I have been misled by fake news stories in the past', while 40% disagree.

Younger people are also more likely to say they have been fooled in the past: 38% of 16- to 24-year-olds and 32% of 25- to 34-year-olds agree, compared with 21% of those aged 55-and-over.

Roger Mortimore, professor of public opinion and political analysis at King’s College London, said: "In the month that the government published a white paper on stricter regulation of online companies to protect the public from harmful content, these findings should give everybody food for thought. The British public is worried about fake news, and sees no reason why it should be expected to tolerate it. If Parliament can find an effective way to ban the spreading of fake news, they can hope for support just as strong as they will get in their quest to block other online harms."

The research was conducted online by Ipsos MORI among a representative quota sample of among 1,084 adults aged 16-75 across Great Britain between 22 and 26 February 2019.