July 3, 2019

Almost half of Americans believe that fact-checkers are biased, and the majority of these skeptics are Republican. But fact-checkers are still much more highly trusted than traditional media, a new study from Pew Research Center shows. 

A new report by Mason Walker and Jeffrey Gottfried reveals that American’s’ opinions of fact-checkers are highly polarized along partisan lines. The study, which looks at how adults in the United States feel about news and information in the digital age, found that 70% of Republicans believe fact-checkers tend to favor one side, while only 29% of Democrats say the same. 

Overall, half of American adults believe that fact-checkers are unbiased. This is much higher than the 26% of Americans who believe the same about traditional news organizations. 

(Pew Research Center)

“The issue of made-up news and information has been a challenge to Americans,” Jeffrey Gottfried, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center, told the IFCN. “In today’s fast-paced environment, we wanted to look into the extent to which they experience misinformation.” 

Gottfried explained that the partisan divide seen in these results can be traced back to 2017. “In 2016, the difference was much smaller,” he said. “2017 was when this huge split happened.” 

Pew has been asking American adults whether “the media favor(s) one side” for three decades, and the last three years have yielded the most partisan results in history. The only other exception was 2007, at the end of President George W. Bush’s second term in office.

(Pew Research Center)

Pew’s study also asked Americans to what extent they trust their own ability to verify news. The results make clear that, although half of Americans don’t trust fact-checkers to verify their news, they’re not always confident in their own abilities, either. 

Only three in 10 Americans are “very confident” in their ability to fact-check the news, while a quarter said they weren’t confident at all. 

“What we saw is that a large majority (of U.S. adults) are saying that they’re checking the facts themselves in response to the (misinformation crisis),” Gottfried said. But while “Most Americans are saying they’ve checked the facts of news stories, they have a mixed assessment of their own ability to be able to (the fact-checking work) themselves.”

(Pew Research Center)

Clarification: A previous version of this article said that “exactly half” of Americans believe fact checkers are unbiased. Due to the nature of polling, “exactly” isn’t an appropriate way to describe “half.” 

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  • I have met people involved in the media as content producers, editors, artists, technicians, and even publishers and producers, but I’ve never met a fact-checker. I believe it’s a position that doesn’t require a specific degree, a qualifying examination, or a certification from an authority that can bestow the title “fact checker” on someone. I know that there are companies that do fact checking on contract, but I don’t believe that they are answerable to anyone but their media customers. My understanding is that many fact checkers are young aspiring journalists, who one would imagine would KNOW very little based on their limited experience, and have had most of their professional experience researching undergraduate college papers. I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be trustworthy.

  • **Almost half of Americans believe that fact-checkers are biased, and the majority of these skeptics are Republican.**

    The above claim leads the Poynter/IFCN story. I challenged it on Twitter this week, receiving no response or acknowledgment. I asked one of the Pew Research authors if it was true. He replied that the study found Republicans much more likely than Democrats to think that fact checkers favor one side. That did not perfectly answer my question, so I looked up the Pew Research findings on the political makeup of the United States (% Democrat, Independent, Republican).

    As of 2018, Pew reports 31 percent Democrat, 38 percent Independent and 26 percent Republican. Using a rough estimation, Republicans make up about 42 percent of Americans who believe fact checkers favor one side.

    That’s less than half, strongly suggesting that the claim from the Poynter/IFCN article is false. Concluding otherwise would likely demand counting Independents who lean Republican as Republican, with no apparent justification for that reasoning coming directly from Pew Research.

  • Fact checkers should focus on what the IFCN downplays in this polling trend. Nearly half of Moderates (47 percent) reported believing fact checkers favor one side. There’s a huge trust gap fact checker should pull out all the stops to close.

    Also, the Pew Research data offers a troubling picture of fact checker impartiality. Democrats show far less suspicion of fact checkers than Moderates show. That’s a powerful clue that a very large population (mostly among Moderates and Republicans) sees U.S. fact checkers as leaning left.

    Isn’t it time to examine the elephant in the room? Or should fact checkers continue to ignore it?