Most Australians say social media platforms should block misleading political ads

A majority of Australians surveyed about their attitudes to the changing media landscape (58%) believe social media platforms should block misleading political ads

while a quarter think there should not be curbs because determining truth is not the role of technology companies.

The finding is part of a respected annual international survey coordinated by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, in collaboration with the news and media research centre at the University of Canberra.

Australians in the survey cleave on the question of whether platforms should intervene in misleading political ads depending on their levels of income and education, and their political orientation. Two-thirds of Australians surveyed (64%) say they are concerned about what is real and what is fake on the internet.

Voters who identified as leftwing most strongly supported the option of tech companies blocking misleading political ads on their platforms (69%), while rightwing voters are the least supportive (54%). People with more advanced levels of education and higher incomes are more likely to be concerned about tech companies exerting editorial control.

With the contemporary news environment more polarised, and with media companies battling unrelenting financial pressure, Australians say they value independent journalism and impartial reporting. There has also been a surge in news consumption in Australia during the two big crises of the year – the summer bushfire catastrophe and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Trust in news varied with the two events. During the bushfires, trust in Australian news in general was low at 38%, representing a six-point decline since last year. But Covid-19 saw attitudes shift. Trust in news was much higher (53%) at the peak of the crisis, particularly in reporting that documented local events.

More than half the respondents in the Australian survey (54%) profess to preferring impartial news rather than news with a slant. But 19% said they accessed news that confirmed their world views, while 13% said they preferred to have their views challenged.

While impartiality wins the day with most news consumers, the research finds attitudes are changing. The survey unearths generational and political ads divisions about traditional journalism ideals. Only 45% of Gen Z respondents think independent journalism is very or extremely important compared with 77% of baby boomers. Rightwing news consumers are least likely to want their world view challenged.

News consumption habits also influence attitudes. Consumers who rely on social media (57%) and print (60%) as their main source of news are the least likely to think independent journalism is important for society to function, while people who get their news from TV (71%), radio (71%) and online (70%) are more likely to think it is important.

“Younger news consumers are less concerned about journalism’s independence from commercial and political adsinterests and are more open to accessing news that shares their point of view, rather than offering an impartial one,” the 2020 snapshot reports.

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 “The data also shows that more leftwing news consumers deem independent reporting to be more important to society than centre and rightwing news consumers.

“Given that more rightwing news consumers watch commercial TV news and more leftwing news consumers rely on the ABC and SBS, these findings likely reflect the different news consumption habits of Australians based on their political ads.”

When results in Australia are compared with sentiment in other countries, news consumption increased in this country during the past 12 months. Comparisons show more than half of Australians get their news on social media, but fewer (39%) use Facebook for news than the global average (42%).

Australians trust the news at similar levels to audiences in the rest of the world, and while we were early adopters of mobile technology, we are less “mobile” when it comes to news consumption. The research says 41% of Australians use mobile phones as the main device to access news compared with 51% globally.

Also, the desire for independent journalism in Australia (62%) is lower than the global average (64%) and in the United States (66%). The survey compiles comparative data on media usage in 40 countries and across six continents.

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