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The Pulse: Disinformation in America

Consumer Sentiments and the Effects of Disinformation

Over the past few years, disinformation has become a hot topic. Disinformation is a subset of propaganda and is false information that is spread deliberately to deceive. It has been especially prevalent when it comes to political advertising. To better understand how consumers view disinformation, and the effect that it has, we decided to dive in and ask consumers about the topic and their views on advertisers (publishers*) and brands role in it.

* Publishers were referred to as “advertisers” in this consumer facing survey.

 

Disinformation in Ads

Most adults (58%) say that they have seen an advertisement that presented information that was false or misleading. Millennials reported the highest percentage at 65% and Gen Z being second highest at 61%. Older generations felt that they have been less exposed to disinformation with Gen X at 57% and just over half of Baby Boomers at 51%. Notably, 66% of households with children reported that they have seen an advertisement that presented disinformation.

 

The Negative Effects of Disinformation

When asked about if consumers were concerned about the negative effects that disinformation is having on our society, 72% of adults agreed that they were concerned. Baby Boomers set themselves apart from other generations here with 83% agreeing that they were concerned. Gen Z (64%), Millennials (66%), and Gen X (66%) all indicated that they were much less concerned than Baby Boomers. We also saw a large difference when looking at consumers from different education levels. College graduates (80%) and those with some college education (78%) show a similar level of concern to Baby Boomers. Consumers with a high school education or less (60%) reported a much lower level of concern when it comes to the negative effects that disinformation is having on our society.



When it comes to how our own personal beliefs are being affected by disinformation, 39% of adults are concerned about their personal opinions and beliefs being negatively influenced by disinformation. The level of concern was consistent across generations. Men (43%) showed a higher level of concern compared to women (35%).

 

Identifying Disinformation

Identifying disinformation has unfortunately become a necessary skill in modern society. 63% of US Adults agree that they were confident in their ability to identify disinformation. Gen Z was noticeably lower at 52% than Millennials (64%), Gen X (63%), and Baby Boomers (66%). Education seems to also play a factor in confidence in identifying disinformation. 70% of college graduates agree that they were confident in their ability, compared to just 54% of those with a high school education or less.


Publishers’ Responsibility with Disinformation

So what role do consumers believe advertisers (publishers) should play when it comes to combating the spread of disinformation? 71% of US Adults believe that advertisers (publishers) have a duty to combat the spread of disinformation. 83% of Baby Boomers and 69% of Gen X agreed with this viewpoint. Younger generations, Gen Z (59%) and Millennials (61%), were not as strong in their agreement as older generations but the majority still believe that advertisers (publishers) have a duty. There were again some large differences among education levels with 60% of high school graduate or less agreeing and 77% of college graduates agreeing.



Consumers do not think that advertisers (publishers) are currently doing a good job at combating disinformation. Only 22% of US Adults agreed that advertisers (publishers) are taking appropriate measures to combat the spread of disinformation. 40% of US Adults neither agreed nor disagreed which indicates that there is a lot of uncertainty about steps that advertisers are taking. Uncertainty was greatest among Baby Boomers (42%) and Gen X (42%).

 

Brands’ Responsibility with Disinformation

We also asked consumers about whether they felt that brands themselves have a responsibility to not advertise on platforms that spread disinformation. 65% of US Adults agreed that they do have a responsibility. This was slightly lower (-6%) than how US Adults felt about the advertiser’s responsibility (71%). The takeaway from this is that consumers view combating disinformation to be more the responsibility of the advertiser, but brands still have a responsibility themselves. Similar to trends mentioned previously, older and more educated consumers more strongly agreed that brands have a responsibility.

 


Written by Jake Kelley, Director, Reporting at ENGINE Insights.

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Methodology

This Online CARAVAN® omnibus survey was conducted on December 6-8, 2021. Approximately 1,000 adults selected from opt-in panels were surveyed. The results are also weighted to U.S. Census data to be demographically representative. Written by the CARAVAN team at ENGINE Insights. Learn more about our Online CARAVAN® omnibus surveys here. Contact us at caravaninfo@enginegroup.com for more information.