Americans over 50 are worse than younger people at telling facts from opinions, according to a new study by Pew Research Center.
Given 10 statements, five each of fact and opinion, younger Americans correctly identified both the facts and the opinions at higher rates than older Americans did. Forty-four percent of younger people identified all five opinions as opinions, while only 26 percent of older people did. And 18-to-29-year-olds performed more than twice as well as the 65+ set. Of the latter group, only 17 percent classified all five facts as factual statements.
The research tacks against the idea that younger people who are extremely online (or “digitally savvy,” in Pew’s terms) might be more exposed and/or more susceptible to misinformation. But the real correlation with poor performance is exposure to television news, which has fallen off among young people but remains very high among older people. This shouldn’t be surprising if we consider the evolution of American media over the past 60 years. Someone born in 1958, now 60, witnessed two revolutions in media before the internet: talk radio and 24-hour cable news. Both blended facts and opinions in new and unprecedented ways, and they matured with the cohort of Americans who are now over the age of 50.
The internet, of course, became like the previous iterations of the media, but more so. While the bulk of coverage is close to the political center, the far-right media grew to serve ever-larger numbers of older Americans, mostly with the same undifferentiated mix of fact and opinion that talk radio pioneered. “Our own study of over 1.25 million stories published online between April 1, 2015 and Election Day  shows that a right-wing media network anchored around Breitbart developed as a distinct and insulated media system,” wrote a team of Harvard scholars, “using social media as a backbone to transmit a hyper-partisan perspective to the world.”
In short, for decades now, older people, especially conservatives, have experienced an erosion of the line between fact and opinion in every media form. The only surprising thing about the new research’s results is that every group’s performance was not worse.
Read the complete article on The Atlantic here.