Project Title

“Fake News”, Political Polarization, and the Undermining of News Credibility

Academic department under which the project should be listed

RCHSS - Psychological Science

Faculty Sponsor Name

Dr. Pam Marel

Abstract (300 words maximum)

In our current political landscape, the term “fake news” has been weaponized by both major political parties to undermine the credibility of news that may support opposing political opinions. Media outlets have interacted with political polarization, tailoring their content to agree with consumers’ existing beliefs, and themselves have become increasingly polarized entities. CNN and Fox News have emerged as two of the most common targets for “fake news” accusations. With widespread misinformation playing a critical role in crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, we must examine whether growing distrust in media extends to non-political topics. To examine the effects of political attitudes and news network on perceived credibility of the presenting network and of the story itself, participants read identical news articles about an apolitical topic attributed to CNN or Fox News. Participants then rated how credible they perceived the news source and the story to be using the adapted Network Credibility and Story Credibility scales (Miller & Kurpius, 2010). They self-reported their political attitudes on a scale from very conservative to very liberal. The results indicate that some differences exist in credibility perceptions between self-reported liberals and those who identified as politically neutral for the network CNN and the associated story. Liberals in general also found CNN more credible than Fox, but the opposite was not true for conservatives. These results may be used to examine potential implications of the influence of political attitudes and news source branding on overall information dissemination and to better understand political polarization in America.

Project Type

Oral Presentation (15-min time slots)

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“Fake News”, Political Polarization, and the Undermining of News Credibility

In our current political landscape, the term “fake news” has been weaponized by both major political parties to undermine the credibility of news that may support opposing political opinions. Media outlets have interacted with political polarization, tailoring their content to agree with consumers’ existing beliefs, and themselves have become increasingly polarized entities. CNN and Fox News have emerged as two of the most common targets for “fake news” accusations. With widespread misinformation playing a critical role in crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, we must examine whether growing distrust in media extends to non-political topics. To examine the effects of political attitudes and news network on perceived credibility of the presenting network and of the story itself, participants read identical news articles about an apolitical topic attributed to CNN or Fox News. Participants then rated how credible they perceived the news source and the story to be using the adapted Network Credibility and Story Credibility scales (Miller & Kurpius, 2010). They self-reported their political attitudes on a scale from very conservative to very liberal. The results indicate that some differences exist in credibility perceptions between self-reported liberals and those who identified as politically neutral for the network CNN and the associated story. Liberals in general also found CNN more credible than Fox, but the opposite was not true for conservatives. These results may be used to examine potential implications of the influence of political attitudes and news source branding on overall information dissemination and to better understand political polarization in America.