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Fake news is altering perceptions of facts, Swedish survey shows

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Fake news is altering perceptions of facts, Swedish survey shows
Fake news is causing Swedes to change how they consider facts. Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen
12:01 CET+01:00
Eight out of ten Swedes think that so-called fake news is having an impact on their perception of basic facts, while the majority said that they see news articles they don't believe to be entirely true on a weekly basis.

That's according to a survey by pollsters Ipsos which the Swedish Media Publishers' Asssociation (TU) commissioned. In the study, Swedes aged between 18 and 75 were asked questions based on ones used in a similar December study in the US by the Pew Research Centre, which showed that many Americans suspect fabricated news is causing confusion.

And it seems Swedes also think unreliable news stories are having an effect. When asked by TU "how much do you think made-up/false news affects Swedes' perceptions of basic facts when it comes to current issues and events?", 76 percent said it does to a large extent.

"It's worrying if it's becoming more difficult to find common ground and we can't agree on basic facts," TU's head analyst Tobias Lindberg told The Local.

The survey suggests that Swedish encounters with perceived fake news are fairly common. Six of ten respondents said they see news articles or reports online which they don't consider to be completely truthful on a weekly basis. Four out of ten said they see reports they consider to be fabricated or untruthful every week.

READ ALSO: Why Bamse is going to teach Swedish kids about fake news

The study also shows that Swedes think the main responsibility for preventing the spread of fake news lies with the media: six out of ten said that individuals themselves have a high responsibility in stopping the spread of fake news, compared to eight out of ten saying they think the media has a high responsibility.

"Earlier studies have shown that around one in five Swedes don't trust the media, and that of course is serious," Lindberg pointed out.

He added that international figures suggest Sweden is not the only nation where trust in the media is shaky however:

"According to the Reuters Institute Digital News report 2016, Swedish faith in news and news organizations is somewhat lower than Finland for example, but it's higher than in the US and France."

The Reuters Institute study from 2016 showed that 40 percent of respondents in Sweden had confidence in news. The highest level of faith was Finland, with 65 percent, while the lowest was Greece with 20 percent. The USA registered 33 percent, and France 32 percent.

The interviews for TU's Swedish study were carried out between the 15th and 23rd of February. In the middle of that period, comments made by US President Donald Trump sparked a back and forth about the veracity of some of the claims being made about Sweden in right-wing media outlets, with some regarding crime and immigration shown to be false.

Ipsos told The Local that it is difficult to accurately measure whether the focus on untrustworthy news caused by the "last night in Sweden" episode would have had any impact on the kind of responses given to the TU survey before and after Trump's comments however because of the relatively small sample size (1034 people).

"Something very big is often needed for attitudes to be altered even over such a short time," Ipsos Nordic analyst David Ahlin added.

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