In looking for reasons behind the misinformation that is casting doubt about last week’s election Joseph R. Biden Jr., some researchers are drawing a link to the growing distrust of the news media among conservatives.
Research from Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has found a long and steady decline in trust in traditional media among more conservative Americans. In its place, they are increasingly relying on right-wing media outlets like Breitbart News and One America News and conservative pundits with a history of spreading falsehoods.
From 2015 to 2020, trust in media fell from 25 percent to 13 percent among conservative-leaning respondents, according to the institute’s annual poll on news habits. Among left-leaning respondents, trust grew slightly, to 39 percent from 35 percent, according to the latest results, which were published in June.
The declining trust in news has been years in the making and coincides with rising use of social media as a main source of information. In 2020, social media was a source of news for 48 percent of the public, up from 27 percent in 2013, according to the Reuters Institute.
The divide has created an environment where even basic facts are not agreed upon, making it easier for President Trump and others to spread falsehoods about the election results, said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of the institute. He said right-wing media outlets did not have the same fact-checking rigor and instead served as an echo chamber, helping nurture the belief that the election was rigged despite lack of credible evidence.
“People on the right have lost faith in the news media,” Mr. Nielsen said in an interview. “It has created an environment where a significant part of the American public feels alienated from established news media, but they still want information and seek it out.”
He said the situation in the United States stood out from other Western democracies because the media had become increasingly polarized, particularly on the right, and Republican political leaders were more willing to spread falsehoods. Any attempt at regulation or intervention by internet platforms, Mr. Nielsen said, will be seen as “an attempt to stifle their voices and marginalize them from public life.”
Leticia Bode, an associate professor at Georgetown University who studies interventions against misinformation, said election-related misinformation was particularly hard to counter because it “taps into political identities, which in this era are very strong and very salient.”
“That makes it hard to change anyone’s mind,” she said.