22/06/2017 9:00 AM AEST

Negative Stories And A Shortage Of Trust Makes Us Turn Off The News

A new report finds more than half of us actively avoid the news some or all the time.

Dion Georgopoulos/Fairfax
The Digital News Report: Australia 2017 has found trust in news stable, but low at 41.7 percent.

CANBERRA -- Terrorist attacks, deadly infernos, climate change, circular bun fights over Commonwealth schools funding and cries of 'fake news' -- is it any wonder so many of us just can't deal with the news at the moment?

And a steady shortfall of trust in news, especially due to "suspect" sharing on social media platforms, is not helping.

Now we know just how exactly much of the Australian population is actively avoiding reportage, journalism and your average social media feed. According to the just released, "Digital News Report: Australia 2017" from the University of Canberra, approximately 56 percent of the 2,004 people surveyed said they actively avoid the news some or all the time.

  • "Digital News Report: Australia 2017
  • Trust in news stable but low at 42 percent
  • 56 percent of online news users try to avoid the news
  • Only 27 percent believe social media helps them distinguish fact from fiction
  • A polarisation in trust by those who rely on 24-hour TV news

"It is overwhelming at the moment. There is a lot of bad news out there around terrorism and violence and war," report co-author Assistant Professor Caroline Fisher told HuffPost Australia.

"And the news cycle just pops into your feed. You're in the middle of having a nice chat with a friend and up pops a story about a suicide bomber.

"News on the whole is negative. It is conflict-based. It is the main news value, we all know that."

Digital News Report: Australia 2017
The key reasons given for avoiding the news were related to the negative impact news can have on mood; the distracting and time consuming nature of news; and not being able to rely on its veracity.

Why say no to news? Well, according to the report, 26 percent of those surveyed said it has a negative impact on mood, 16.9 percent said they could not rely on it to be true, while 13.2 percent felt they had not control about it and 12.4 percent could not handle the graphic nature of news.

A smaller group admit the news lead to uncomfortable arguments they would like to avoid.

In short, the news is too much and there are serious trust issues.

"I think there are strong messages (for news chiefs) around the type of content that news focuses on," Fisher suggests.

"Perhaps it is a sign of information overload and people are pushing back a bit."

That leaves 42 percent of the population, according to the report, who said they never try to avoid the news.

They were found they have higher trust and interest in news than those who try to avoid it.

"We actually have to do a lot more work around people's conception of news. What do they think news is?" she said, also pointing to a "blurriness' of what constitutes news on social media, like Facebook feeds.

Digital News Report: Australia 2017
Digital News Report: General trust in news is low, but stable.

Overall, despite concern over "fake news", trust in news is stable, but low at 41.7 percent; 25 percent distrusted the news and 33 percent were neither trusting nor distrusting. And when you break it down, there's even lower trust in the online space.

It represents a very slight shift down from the previous year, when 43.3 percent had trust in the news and the result places Australia below Ireland, the UK and Canada in terms of general trust, but above the United States (38.1 percent). Of the 36 countries surveyed, the least trust was found in Greece (22.9 percent) and the highest in Finland (62.4 percent).

But is it deserved?

"It is not surprising given bad practices in journalism, but I think there is also a scepticism around online news in general.

"We see that in this big section of the community, more than 30 percent, who don't know whether to trust the news or not.

"That's a much bigger section than the people who actually distrust."

Only 27 percent of respondents said social media helped them separate fact from fiction, compared to 40 percent in relation to traditional news media. Another third was undecided.

"It is not a great picture around trust," Fisher said, "(But) given the concern around fake news, I would have expected it might have perhaps been lower, but it is not."

"The overall trust in news had held, but what we are seeing is trust in news in social media is falling."

Digital News Report: Australia 2017
Trust in news by the main source of news.

A third of those who rely on social media (32 percent) and just over a third of those who use online sources (37 percent) as their main source of news are less likely to trust most news most of the time.

Newspaper readers (52 percent), TV viewers (50 percent) and radio listeners (48 percent) have the highest general trust in news.

"I don't see the issue of trust getting any better, particularly on social media," Fisher told HuffPost Australia.

"The reason why people don't trust social media is because of what I call the stupidity of the crowd. The ignorance of the crowd. There are whole bunch of voices on there and people sharing information and unless you trust the person who sent it to you then there are whole bunch of factors which increase people uncertainty about it.

"Because of the sharing nature, I don't see trust increasing in that space at all."

Except for perhaps for young people.

"You tend to trust the news you use the most," Fisher said. "So we may see trust increase in social media as younger people get older, because this is their main resource."

And people will probably keep consuming anyway.

"It might seem counter-intuitive but people have always consumed news they don't necessarily trust," she explained. "Trust is only one factor in people deciding what they read or watch. So even if trust falls further I suspect people will keep reading it."

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