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Germany May Be Less Vulnerable to Fake News

Public TV and newspapers still get the nod as sources of political news

January 30, 2017

As it gears up for a closely watched federal election in September, Germany appears to have a measure of protection from so-called fake news. A December 2016 survey found that 60% of adults relied on public TV or newspapers as their primary source of political news.

Primary Source that Consumers in Germany Use to Find Political Information, Dec 2016 (% of respondents)

Social media—which can act as a high-powered amplifier for biased and sometimes outright fake headlines—barely registered among these respondents, with only 3% of those polled by infratest dimap for public broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) citing that media type as their primary source of political information. The internet in general was cited by just 16%.

By contrast, in the long run-up to the recent US presidential election, a number of polls found distinctly higher levels of social network use, and internet use in general, to stay on top of political news by US adults.

Sources Used by US Adults to Learn About the 2016 Presidential Election, Jan 2016 (% of respondents)

When Pew Research asked US adults in January 2016 to list the sources of information about the presidential election they had used recently, social networks were cited by 44% of respondents, and digital sources more generally by 65%. (It should be noted, however, that this poll did not ask respondents to declare their "primary" sources of news as the German poll did.)

Among US mobile phone-owning college students ages 18 to 24 polled in April 2016 by brand marketing app whurk, 53% said their main news sources—for news in general, not just political information—were social, with Twitter the most common. Another 43% cited websites. Nondigital media failed to make the list.

Primary Media Used to Access News Content According to Internet Users in Germany, by Age, Feb 2016 (% of respondents)

infratest dimap's survey results aside, other studies of media use in Germany have found younger adults there are more similar to their US peers when it comes to general news sources. February 2016 polling by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford conducted by YouGov in collaboration with the Hans Bredow Institut für Medienforschung an der Universität Hamburg, the Landesmedienanstalten and Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) found the internet was the primary media used to access news content by approximately half of internet users in Germany ages 18 to 34 polled who had accessed news in the past week, making it their most turned-to source. And among all adults queried, the internet ranked second behind TV.

So, while the internet, and social media in particular, may not be the first place adults in Germany turn to for political news, nontraditional media has made inroads when it comes to their sources for news in general. Whether digital channels become more commonplace for seeking out political news specifically remains to be seen, but for this year's election cycle at least, it looks like old media will continue to boast the most clout. And because of that, fake news is unlikely to hold much sway over the country's voters.

—Ben Clague

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