Voter trust in political information from Facebook, Twitter and other social media services is now on par with that in traditional news sources, according to a new survey shared with POLITICO.
Recent years have seen candidates increasingly devoting time and resources to developing their social media presences, with President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign widely admired by experts in both parties for its massive data and analytics operation.
The George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management/ORI survey finds that those campaign efforts are well-placed — social media in some form has reached a critical mass of adopters across age groups, is widely used for sharing political content and is just as well-regarded as traditional news outlets like television, radio and print.
“There needs to be an authentic commitment in social media” by candidates,” said David Rehr, a professor at the school. “They’ve got to take it very seriously.” Social media “is an information source that has to be reckoned with.”
The survey finds that nearly two-thirds of voters reported that political information on social media was either higher quality or on par with traditional media outlets. For users younger than 25, 71 percent put the same or greater level of trust in content.
Older voters are more skeptical of information shared on social media — with 36 percent calling it less reliable than traditional news sources.
Trust in social media is a bit of a surprising finding given the sheer number of hoaxes and fake news reports that constantly circulate on Twitter and Facebook — but John Kagia, director of strategy and insight at ORI, said the networks come with a built-in correction mechanism.
“I was particularly struck by how social media has closed the credibility gap,” Kagia said. “The speed with which inaccurate or incorrect information gets rebutted is much faster now than when it used to be,” he said, while acknowledging there is now much more information to vet.
Part of the reason that social networks have closed the credibility gap is that those networks are often built on real-life friendships and connections.