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The Relationship Between Trust in Media and Fake News: A Sociological Approach


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Although the existence of fake news can be found in the last decade, this subject succeeded to impose and gain coverage among the current research topics, becoming important through the harmful effects it can produce, but also through its continuous dynamics and evolution. Through this paper we aim to present some theoretical perspectives on the phenomenon of fake news, then we will aim to make the connection between fake news and trust in the media (in any of its type, mass-media or new media). Through the theoretical analysis we aim to develop some hypotheses and subjects which could lead to future research. Therefore, by the present analysis-which has as scope the exploration of the possible relations between the population's trust in the media and fake news-we focus on developing a theoretical framework, so that possible results could enhance a better knowledge and combatting the negative effects of this phenomenon.
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DOI : 10.47743/ASAS-2021-1-0011
Although the existence of fake news can be found in the last decade, this subject
succeeded to impose and gain coverage among the current research topics,
becoming important through the harmful effects it can produce, but also through
its continuous dynamics and evolution. Through this paper we aim to present
some theoretical perspectives on the phenomenon of fake news, then we will aim
to make the connection between fake news and trust in the media (in any of its
type, mass-media or new media). Through the theoretical analysis we aim to
develop some hypotheses and subjects which could lead to future research.
Therefore, by the present analysis – which has as scope the exploration of the
possible relations between the population’s trust in the media and fake news – we
focus on developing a theoretical framework, so that possible results could
enhance a better knowledge and combatting the negative effects of this
Keywords: fake news, media, trust in media, false news.
Bien que l’existence du phénomène fake news peut être trouvée dans la dernière
décennie, il a réussi à s’imposer et à gagner de l’espace parmi les sujets de
recherche actuels, étant devenu important par les effets nocifs qu’il peut produire,
mais aussi par sa continue dynamique et évolution. Par le présent travail nous
avons l’intention de présenter quelques perspectives théoriques sur phénomène
fake news, ensuite nous essaierons d’établir une connexion avec la confiance dans
le média (sous quelque forme que ce soit, média où le nouveau média). L’objective
que nous proposons, par la présente analyse théorique, est de développer quelques
hypothèses et thèmes, qui pourraient constituer l’objet de recherches
supplémentaires. Par cette analyse ayant pour objet l’exploration des possibles
relations entre la confiance de la population dans le média et le phénomène fake
news, nous avons l’intention de suivre le développent d’un cadre conceptuel, afin
1 Professor, Ph.D., Department of Sociology and Sociology Work, “Alexandru Ioan
Cuza” University of Iai, România; e-mail:
2 Ph.D. student, Department of Sociology and Social Work, “Alexandru Ioan Cuza”
University of Iai, România; e-mail:
Cristina Gavrilu, Sergiu Borto
que les possibles résultats pourrons être utilisées pour une meilleure
compréhension et lutte contre les effets négatives du phénomène.
Mots-clés: fake news; média; confiance dans le média; des fausses nouvelles.
Dei existena fenomenului fake news poate fi gsit în ultima decad, acesta a
reuit s se impun i stige spaiu printre temele de cercetare actuale,
devenind important prin efectele nocive pe care le poate produce, dar i prin
continua sa dinamic i evoluie. Prin lucrarea de fa ne propunem s prezentm
câteva perspective teoretice despre fenomenul fake news, apoi vom încerca s
facem legtura cu încrederea în media (în oricare dintre forme, mass-media sau
new media). Obiectivul pe care ni-l propunem prin analiza teoretic de fa este s
dezvoltm câteva ipoteze i teme care ar putea constitui subiectul unor cercetri
viitoare. Prin analiza de fa, ce are drept scop explorarea posibilelor relaii dintre
încrederea populaiei în media i fenomenul fake news, urmrim dezvoltarea unui
cadru conceptual, astfel încât posibilele rezultate ar putea fi utilizate în mai buna
cunoatere i combatere a efectelor negative ale fenomenului.
Cuvinte cheie: fake news; media; încredere în media; tiri false.
1. Introduction
Recent years have highlighted the phenomenon of fake news along with
some significant events in social life and political scene: two notable events worth
to be mentioned are: Brexit and the 2016 United States presidential elections.
These events revealed the harmful effects that the use of technology and the
information ecosystem in the service of political agenda can have. Since then the
phenomenon of fake news became more visible, used both as [pseudo]journalistic
genre and fake label (Egelhofer, Lecheler, 2019). The meanings of the „fake news”
concept are diverse – in this paper, we will refer as it as any news or information
which is intentionally distorted, then spread on various communication channels
(mass-media, new media, social networks) by an organisational or state agent
which has a clear strategy and goals that are pursued through misinformation
actions (Allcott, Gentkow, 2017; Figueira, Oliveira, 2017; Voicu, 2018; Bârgoanu,
2018; Tandoc et al., 2018). Thus, our aim is to problematise the relation between
the trust that the population has in the media (using data sources and public
reports) and the manner in which this impacts the existence and evolutions of
fake news. First, we will present some perspectives and theoretical foundations
related to fake news phenomenon – more exactly – some characteristics,
typologies and analysis frameworks of this phenomenon.
2. An overview of fake news
Tandoc et al. (2018) did a literature review of fake news, reaching a total of
34 papers analysed, published between 2003 and 2017. Following this, the authors
developed a typology of fake news definitions found on the analysed articles and
identify the following types: (1) news satire – which utilises the irony,
The Relationship between Trust in Media and Fake News
exaggeration and humour in order to highlight certain characteristics of a person,
situation or event, (2) news parody – it relies on humour, but with a purpose that
can be associated with defamation, (3) news fabrication – data, contexts or any
kind of information are used with no factual basis; (4) photo manipulation –
where can be included the manipulation of images and videos as deepfakes, the
use of false statistics, the intentional misinterpretation of data so that these serves
the purpose of the attackers; (5) native advertising – includes advertising
materials, products placement where the materials are not marked for advertising
purposes; (6) propaganda – which, according to the authors refers to „news
stories which are created by a political entity to influence public perceptions. The
overt purpose is to benefit a public figure, organisation or government” (Tandoc
et al., 2018, p. 147).
Hirst (2017, pp. 90-91) also developed a typology of fake news, splitting
them into: (1) false stories – intentionally fabricated content, without a factual
basis, it can be proven as factually incorrect, but could mislead readers; (2) „fake
news as stories that originate on satirical websites” which intentionally presents
exaggerations and distorsions of the facts and events in order to entertain
readers; (3) „news-like content that is advertorial and commercial” – the purpose
is selling something (a product or a service); (4) fake news used in politics can
have multiple forms such as: accusation of the opposition party of certain facts,
actions which can be exaggerated, altered so it can help the attacker’s goal (fake
news is used as fake label – we will approach this concept in this paper); (5) „fake
news as a form of propaganda” – news that is deliberately falsified in order to
obtain commercial or politic benefits; (6) „fake news that is highly ideological”.
Tandoc et al. (2018, 2019, 2020) identified two dimensions which can be
used in analysing fake news typology. The authors distinguished between (1) the
factual element of fake news and (2) the sender’ intent to deceive, then they
integrated the typology mentioned above (see Table 1).
Table 1: Typology of fake news definitions – The relationship between factuality and
intention to deceive. Adapted after Tandoc et al. (2018)
The intent to deceive
High Low
The level of
High Propaganda
Native advertising
Photo manipulation
News satire
Low News fabrication News parody
According to the authors, the level of facticity refers to the degree to which
the news is based on real facts; the intentional component refers to the degree to
which the author / authors of the news intend to deceive or mislead the public.
Cristina Gavrilu, Sergiu Borto
Thereby, using these dimensions (the intent to deceive and facticity) we can
differentiate the disinformation and misinformation. Misinformation is
characterised by a lack of facticity and no intention to deceive; on the other side,
disinformation is characterised by the lack of facticity and the presence of the
intention to deceive.
Table 2: The differences between fake news and false news.
Misinformation Disinformation
Facticity (-) (-)
The intent to deceive (-) (+)
False news Fake news
In addition to misinformation and disinformation, Wardle (2020) identified
a third form – malinformation. The author considers that disinformation
combines both elements of misinformation where there is no intention to deceive,
and elements of malinformation where the author of the message knows the
target and the aspects he /her aims at by spreading the forged information.
According to Wardle (2020), disinformation consists of any kind of erroneous
content, intentionally fabricated or manipulated, in order to support false
conclusions that serve the interest of the agent who initiated the respective
action. Figure 1 represents the relation between misinformation, disinformation
and malinformation according to Wardle (2020).
The Relationship between Trust in Media and Fake News
Wardle (2020) expressed her dissatisfaction regarding the concept of fake
news, respectively with the way this is understood and used, stating that fake
news should be replaced with information disorder – this would also include
other forms of information distorsion, such as propaganda, manipulation or
native advertising.
She identified and described three stages of the information disorder: (1)
creation – when the message is produced; (2) (re)production – when information
is transformed in a media product and it is spread; (3) distribution – the apex, the
stage where the information is spreading uncontrollably, it can also return to its
second stage (reproduction), when additional elements can be added.
In addition to these three stages of how information disorders occur,
Wardle (2020) describe three elements of these stages: the agent who send the
information (that can be described by type, level of organisation, motivation, level
of automatisation, audience, the intent to harm and to deceive), the message
(duration, accuracy, legality and target) and the receiver of the message (who can
be active or passive depending on how the receptor receives the information,
described by the type of message reading and action taken after reading).
Another model we consider useful in understanding and explaining the
phenomenon of fake news is the model developed by Fârte and Obad (2018).
They focus their attention to capture and describe three dimensions of this
phenomenon: (1) facticity level; (2) immediate intention of the source which send
the message; (3) potential impact on the audience that receives and interprets the
message. Starting from this three-dimensional approach, the authors develop a
model of counteracting fake news dedicated for organizational entities, using
reactive public relations. Certainly, this model could be implemented in other
Tandoc (2021) proposed a classical model for analysis the phenomenon of
fake news, starting from a well-known scheme of communication (Sender-
Message-Channel-Receiver Model of Communication, SMCR). The author
analysed each of the four elements: (1) Sender – previously, it was associated
with a source such as the newspaper, a television, radio; on Internet, the sender
can be any person who has access to a device, an Internet connection and
minimal technical skills; (2) Message – in social networks can be accompanied by
other factors, such as number of reactions, views, comments or shares – these
factors can help spreading the information quickly; (3) Channel – it is represented
by the platform where the interaction between sender and receiver takes place,
the author highlighted the fact that one of the shortcomings of the research
addressing the fake news is that they have focused their attention on Facebook
and Twitter platforms; (4) Receiver – is currently facing a big flow of information;
the receiver has to select the information received; in this context, we can discuss
about the mechanisms that fulfill the function of selective exposure to
information, but also the algorithms of the platforms, which make a pre-selection
of the information.
Cristina Gavrilu, Sergiu Borto
3. Trust in media and fake news
Using the conceptual framework presented so far, we will focus on the
receptors and interpreters of fake news, as they are the ones affected by the
negative effects of this phenomenon, however they can become also amplifiers of
it, without having the intention or desire to do it. Thus, we bring into question
the trust that the population has in the media. According Flash Eurobarometer
464 from 2018, entitled Fake News and Disinformation Online, 37 percent citizens
of the European Union (EU28) are exposed daily or almost every day to fake
news, and 31 percent are exposed at least once a week. In both cases it was
measured the perceived exposure to fake news. Also, same research report shows
that traditional media (i.e. radio, television, printed media) enjoys more trust that
new media (for example online newspapers and magazines, social networks or
messaging applications).
European Broadcast Union (EBU) in their analysis, Trust in Media (2020) –
using and processing data from Eurobarometer 92 (EB92) – came to some
conclusions regarding the confidence of the European citizens in the media: (1)
the online channels of communication are less trusted than traditional mass-
media; (2) social networks remain the least trusted media in Europe, and the radio
is still the most trusted; (3) more trust in news reflects a less level of concern
about misinformation/ fake news.
In an exploratory research on media trust and its relationship with fake
news conducted by applying a two-wave online survey, Wasserman and Madrid-
Morales (2019) found that there is a significant correlation between high levels of
perceived exposure to disinformation and low media trust in South Africa.
Ognyanova et al. (2020) conducted a quantitative research involving 1000
respondents from United States of America, to whom two-wave questionnaires
were applied. In the period between the two waves of research, 8 percent of the
respondents agreed their online behaviour to be observed by installing a browser
extension. The results showed that (1) fake news consumption is associated with
a decrease of the trust in the media; (2) fake news consumption is associated with
higher confidence in political and governmental institutions for who is in the side
of power. According to Ognyanova et al. (2020) there is a link between the two
concepts discussed – fake news and the population trust in media.
Summarising everything presented and described in this paper, we could
extract some ideas that could be used as subjects in possible future research:
Trust in the media (low trust) is one of the causes that favoured the
emergence of the fake news;
The emergence and development of fake news led to the erosion of media
How can data on media trust be exploited to combat and predict the
phenomenon of fake news?
The Relationship between Trust in Media and Fake News
Increasing the trust in media and advocating for accurate information
could be elements that can be used for combatting fake news
What connections can be established between other types of trust (trust
in political institutions, public institutions, etc.) and the evolution of fake
news? How could these be used to combat the fake news phenomenon?
The phenomenon of fake news can be explained through a new form /
model /pattern of production of the individual or collective image, the
topics that the anthropologist Marc Augé deals with in his writings
(Augé, 1997). Nowadays, the fictitious production circuit is somewhat
flawed, and we also can discuss about a perfect reciprocity between the
three poles of the imaginary: individual imaginary, collective imaginary
and creation-fiction. If we consider that fake news is ultimately a fiction,
then it imposed itself as a supra-reality on the individual and collective
imaginary, being aware of its own existence.
At the same time, this creation-fiction process fully enjoys the availability
of the imaginary to feed permanently it with new productions. Of course,
we can ask ourselves: why fake news has success? This happens because
the creation-fiction process of this phenomenon articulates symbols,
images, representation in an accessible and seductive way and manages
to create a new creation-fiction pattern. Finally, this phenomenon
manages to re-enchantment (Maffesoli, 2007) the world, delivering
alternatives to official (or not) versions of the truth. “The paradox of our
time is by dis-enchanting the world of old myths, beliefs and fantasies, we
live in full fiction (…)” (Gavrilu, 2008, p. 228); it is a media fiction that
substitutes reality in different ways. In essence, such manifestations could
express a symbolic deficit that our world suffers from (Augé, 1997). The
old myths and the saga are no longer part of the lived experience today.
We live in a dis-enchanted world, as M. Weber stated, a world from
which the mystery, the magic, the sacred became marginal and obscured
areas of human and social experience. However, the success of the fake
news shows that the eternal nostalgia of primordial times, our co-
substantial living with the sacred (Eliade, 1992), as well as the permanent
sensitivities for the symbol, could not be definitively cancelled. Based on
these raw data, all the transformations brought by modern science, new
technologies and the media industry have found enough ground for
manifestation. The media manages to „enchant” the world by creating
stories, news, information and proposing its own versions of reality. The
seduction exerted by the entire media and the fake news spread by it is
justified by our willingness to create and accept alternative worlds or
other universes of understanding.
These are only some of the issues we have extracted which can be used for
future research. We consider these to be important in the relationship between
the phenomenon of false news and media trust. They can be used and modified
Cristina Gavrilu, Sergiu Borto
according to the interests and subjects researched. We consider essential and
necessary multidisciplinary efforts in knowing and understanding the
phenomenon of false news, from experts in various fields, such as psychology,
journalism, sociology, anthropology, information and communication technology.
4. Conclusion
As previously mentioned, the aim of this paper is to present some
theoretical perspectives on the phenomenon of fake news and the current state of
knowledge of the phenomenon and to outline any connection between fake news
and trust in the media.
Even more, we consider imperative to approach this relationship in future
research for a better understanding of how the social body interacts with and
responds to fake news, especially in the context of a trust crisis of which could
affect not only the media, but also other fields. The answer to this crisis could be
one of the appropriate solutions to the issue presented in this paper.
Beyond the intellectual exercise required to study the phenomenon of fake
news, understanding the mechanism of production of the phenomenon that
ensure its success can paint a clearer picture of media communication and the
functioning of the world through the prism of this social lubricant that is
communication. As we mentioned before, it is possible that behind some easy
explanations, which bring together a multitude of variables (techniques,
strategies, interests, calculations, desire to manipulate, entertainment,
exhibitionism, audience, etc.), to identify social data and human beings who
announce our natural availability to fictionalise reality and transform the fiction
into reality. For this reason, the fake news phenomenon remains a provocative
one. He can camouflage less visible realities, which are difficult to decipher, but
which are part of the deep fabric of society.
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Full-text available
One major concern about fake news is that it could damage the public trust in democratic institutions. We examined this possibility using longitudinal survey data combined with records of online behavior. Our study found that online misinformation was linked to lower trust in mainstream media across party lines. However, for moderates and conservatives, exposure to fake news predicted a higher confidence in political institutions. The mostly right-leaning fake news accessed by our moderate-to-conservative respondents could strengthen their trust in a Republican government. This was not true for liberals who could be biased against such content and less likely to believe its claims.
Full-text available
The aim of this conceptual paper is to discuss the issue of managing fake news in the online environment, from an organizational perspective, by using reactive PR strategies. First, we critically discuss the most important definitions of the umbrella term fake news, in the so-called post-truth era, in order to emphasize different challenges in conceptualizing this elusive social phenomenon. Second, employing some valuable contribution from literature, we present and illustrate with vivid examples 10 categories of fake news. Each type of fake news is discussed in the context of organizational communication. Based on existent literature, we propose a 3D conceptual model of fake news, in an organizational context. Furthermore, we consider that PR managers can use either reactive PR strategies to counteract online fake news regarding an organization, or communication stratagems to temporarily transform the organization served into a potential source of fake news. The existing typology of reactive public relations strategies from the literature allow us to discuss the challenge of using them in counteracting online fake news. Each reactive PR strategy can be a potential solution to respond to different types of online fake news. Although these possibilities seem to be extensive, in some cases, PR managers can find them ineffective. In our view, this cluster of reactive PR strategies is not a panacea for managing fake news in the online environment and different strategic approaches may be need, such as communication stratagems. In this context, communication stratagems consist in using organization as a source or as a vector for strategic creation and dissemination of online fake news, for the benefit of the organization. We conclude that within online environment PR managers can employ a variety of reactive PR strategies to counteract fake news, or different communication stratagems to achieve organizational goals.
Full-text available
The authenticity of Information has become a longstanding issue affecting businesses and society, both for printed and digital media. On social networks, the reach and effects of information spread occur at such a fast pace and so amplified that distorted, inaccurate or false information acquires a tremendous potential to cause real world impacts, within minutes, for millions of users. Recently, several public concerns about this problem and some approaches to mitigate the problem were expressed. In this paper, we discuss the problem by presenting the proposals into categories: content based, source based and diffusion based. We describe two opposite approaches and propose an algorithmic solution that synthesizes the main concerns. We conclude the paper by raising awareness about concerns and opportunities for businesses that are currently on the quest to help automatically detecting fake news by providing web services, but who will most certainly, on the long term, profit from their massive usage.
In this chapter, Edson C. Tandoc Jr. assesses why people believe in and propagate false information found online. He does so through four components of communication—namely Sender, Message, Channel and Receiver—and examines the different factors that affect each one. Tandoc’s research reveals that an increasing number of people get their news from social media instead of local news websites, which leads to various consequences on all four components of communication. He explains that individuals judge a news story’s credibility not only on who shared it on social media, but also on the number of likes, comments, and shares. Fake news producers therefore often “produce clickbait content to get more people to like, share, or comment on their fake stories, often playing into readers’ biases or interests”. Tandoc proposes that although the majority of disinformation research has focused on Facebook and Twitter, “fake news now increasingly moves through closed social media applications, such as the messaging app WhatsApp”. He also delineates how fake news and disinformation thrives in times of uncertainty and in situations of information overload—combatting this issue will require a “multi-pronged approach involving technological, economic, legal, and social interventions”.
This exploratory study seeks to understand the diffusion of disinformation by examining how social media users respond to fake news and why. Using a mixed-methods approach in an explanatory-sequential design, this study combines results from a national survey involving 2501 respondents with a series of in-depth interviews with 20 participants from the small but economically and technologically advanced nation of Singapore. This study finds that most social media users in Singapore just ignore the fake news posts they come across on social media. They would only offer corrections when the issue is strongly relevant to them and to people with whom they share a strong and close interpersonal relationship.
In recent years, concerns about the perceived increase in the amount of “fake news” have become prevalent in discussions about media and politics, particularly in the United States and Europe. However, debates around “fake news”, even if some object to the use of the term due to it being loosely defined, appear to speak of processes that occur not only in the Global North but also elsewhere. In Africa, mis- and disinformation campaigns have been used to influence political agendas, and governments have responded with countermeasures. This article explores the phenomenon in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa using data from a two-wave online survey (N = 1847). We find that perceived exposure to disinformation is high, and that trust in social and national media is low. We also identify a significant relationship between higher levels of perceived exposure to disinformation and lower levels of media trust in South Africa. The limitations of this study, which focuses on a subset of the population that is highly educated, the implications of our findings, and recommendations for future research are discussed.
This study examines how American newspapers made sense of the issue of fake news. By analysing newspaper editorials and considering the problem of fake news as a critical incident confronting journalism, this study found that news organizations in the US recognize fake news as a social problem while acknowledging the challenge in defining it. They generally considered fake news as a social media phenomenon thriving on political polarization driven by mostly ideological, but sometimes also financial, motivations. Therefore, they assigned blame for the rise of fake news to the current political environment, to technological platforms Google and Facebook, and to audiences.
Following the 2016 US presidential election, many have expressed concern about the effects of false stories ("fake news"), circulated largely through social media. We discuss the economics of fake news and present new data on its consumption prior to the election. Drawing on web browsing data, archives of fact-checking websites, and results from a new online survey, we find: 1) social media was an important but not dominant source of election news, with 14 percent of Americans calling social media their "most important" source; 2) of the known false news stories that appeared in the three months before the election, those favoring Trump were shared a total of 30 million times on Facebook, while those favoring Clinton were shared 8 million times; 3) the average American adult saw on the order of one or perhaps several fake news stories in the months around the election, with just over half of those who recalled seeing them believing them; and 4) people are much more likely to believe stories that favor their preferred candidate, especially if they have ideologically segregated social media networks.
The political economy of communication has three main components. First, it addresses in a critical manner how the media system interacts with and affects the overall disposition of power in society. Second, it examines how market structures, advertising support, labor relations, profit motivation, technologies, and government policies shape media industries, journalistic practices, occupational sociology, and the nature and content of the news and entertainment. The detailed examination of the policymaking process is the third core component. Political economic analysis suggests that media development has been inflected most strongly at critical junctures, moments when media technologies, political power, and economic structures simultaneously undergo stress and change. The present moment suggests the potential for political economic study of the media to have real impact. Keywords: Political Economy; policy; corporate media; critical junctures; media reform; Smythe; Schiller; Garnham; Herman; Chomsky
La guerre des rêves. Exércices d'éthno-fiction
  • M Augé
Augé, M. (1997). La guerre des rêves. Exércices d'éthno-fiction. Publishing House Seuil.