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Most people want fake news to be a criminal offence, says research

Around seven in ten people think fake news should be a punishable criminal offence and six out of ten people fact check what they read in the media, according to research by business communications consultancy Instinctif Partners.

Most people fact check stories using mainstream platforms, with 58% using the BBC to verify news. Nearly half (49%) say the rise in fake news has made them more wary of clicking on news stories from non-traditional sources.

Although social media gets the most criticism over fake news, traditional media should still worry about its reputation. Despite high-profile controversies relating to false stories on social media, public levels of trust in social media as a news source have risen since 2017 whilst it has fallen, albeit marginally, for traditional media.

Key findings

  • 69% of Britons believe fake news should be a criminal offence
  • Mainstream platforms are preferred as sources of fact checking – 58% of people use the BBC to verify their news, 34% use traditional media, and 34% use other online articles, and 15% use social media
  • Traditional platforms are considered more trustworthy than social media – respondents scored radio and television 3.5 out of five in terms of trust (5 = very trustworthy), traditional media 3.2, Twitter 2.5, Facebook 2.2
  • Only one-quarter of respondents agreed with the statement 'Facebook's measures to combat fake news have been adequate', and less than one in five people said that Mark Zuckerberg’s words and actions had restored their trust in Facebook
  • 38% agree that it is the responsibility of everyone – from search engines and bloggers to editors and the government – to stop fake news

Discussing the findings, Damian Reece, managing partner at Instinctif Partners, says: “This research highlights that fake news has eroded trust in all corners of the media landscape, from social media profiles to mainstream news platforms. The public has shown a clear desire for every actor in this chain to take greater responsibility in proactively addressing fake news and misinformation.”  

Reece concludes that it is vital that PROs get their facts straight: “As influential conduits in the media landscape, PR and communications professionals should take great interest in these findings. The public is no longer willing to accept news at face value, and every story is being read with increasingly sceptical eyes. It is a reminder for those in the communications industry to increase their own fact-checking processes, and ensure that verifiable fact is protected above all else. After all, it is this that the public value most, and these values should align with an increasingly influential PR industry.”  


The research was independently produced by Instinctif Partners, based on data from a nationally representative survey of 2,000 UK adults conducted by OnePoll.

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