Black Americans disproportionately encounter lies online, survey finds

As US presidential elections approach, the vast majority of Americans are concerned about online misinformation and fear they do not have enough accurate information on candidates, especially local ones, a new poll has shown.

While people across the political and racial spectrum reported being “very concerned” about the deliberate spread of online misinformation, the study found Black Americans are disproportionately encountering misinformation when seeking accurate news.

The report, released on Thursday by the social media watchdog group Free Press, found half of respondents encounter misinformation when they go online, and that only 28% of Americans feel “very informed” about local elections.

“This points to a desperate need this year to educate and engage the public on the stakes of what this election means, and about local candidates and down-ballot issues.” said Nora Benavidez, senior counsel at Free Press.

Microtargeting based on race and other demographics can disproportionately affect people of color, said Benavidez. Black Americans said they were much more likely to encounter harassment online than other demographics. She also noted that the study found a large majority of Americans are concerned with how their personal information is being used.

“As we look towards the 2024 elections, we are starting to see that voters of color may, in fact, be targeted with disinformation in ways that would sway their attitudes or seek to divide them and dissuade them from being part of the democratic process,” said Benavidez.

The study showed Hispanic/Latino and Black Americans are more likely to be frequent users of social media platforms for news, with 63% of Black adults and 65% of Latino adults getting news from Facebook compared with 56% of white adults. About 65% of Black adults and 67% of Latino adults get news from YouTube compared with 51% of white adults; and 54% of Black and Latino adults get news from Instagram compared with 35% of white adults.

Majorities of these demographics said they believe it is “acceptable” for tech companies to prevent the distribution of political ads that violate terms of use against the spread of false information.

Conducted in March 2024, the poll surveyed more than 3,000 American adults. Overall, 47% of respondents say they “very often” or “sometimes” encounter news stories that are false or contain misinformation, the study found.

It comes at a time when – despite the spread of misinformation on social media increasing – platforms are scaling back content moderation and failing to provide transparency around moderation.

“This survey has made clear that we’re still in the wild west of fact-checking, with a large majority of Americans taking it upon themselves to verify information they read or hear,” said Henry Fernandez, CEO of the African American Research Collaborative. “This indicates that there’s a definite role for media and advocates to ensure that news and information better serves the needs of a diverse, multiracial democracy.”

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