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Half of Americans 'wary' of information

News, 12 September 2017
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WASHINGTON, DC: Almost half of Americans fall into groups that are not very trustful of information sources and that show little inclination to upgrade their digital literacy skills, new research indicates.

A report by Pew Research Center, based on a survey conducted last year among a national sample of 3,015 adults aged over 18, looked at that factors influencing how people engage with facts and information.

More specifically, it considered their levels of interest in a subject, how much they trust related sources of information, how eager they are to learn more, what else is competing for their attention and their ability to pursue information, and how much access they have to the information in the first place.

Pew reported that a couple of elements in particular stood out when it came to their enthusiasm, namely their level of trust in information sources and their interest in learning, particularly about digital skills.

Pew combined these to create an “information-engagement typology” that highlights the differing ways that Americans deal with these cross pressures.

Thus 25%, the “wary”, have low levels of trust in information sources and little interest in improving their digital skills; this group is also likely to have low levels of smartphone and broadband adoption and to skew towards older males.

A similar proportion (24%) are described as “doubtful” – still “leery” of information sources, but very busy which could explain their reluctance to invest in upgrading their digital literacy skills; this group tends to be middle-aged, relatively well educated and financially comfortable.

The “cautious and curious” form the smallest of the five typologies identified by Pew, making up just 13% of the total. This group has a strong interest in news and information and plenty of tech access but shows little trust in national news organizations, financial institutions and the government. It has lower levels of educational attainment than average but is twice as likely as all adults to be interested in getting training on digital literacy and skills.

The “confident” (16%) combine a strong interest in information with high levels of trust in sources and are self-assured about handling the information landscape; this group is younger, whiter and more educated than the others.

Finally, the “eager and willing” (22%) have the highest interest in news and trust in information but are concerned about their online capabilities and want to learn more; just over half of this group is made of minorities.

Data sourced from Pew Research Center; additional content by WARC staff

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