Around one third (37 per cent) of over 65s in the UK suspect they have shared false or misleading information, according to YouGov data commissioned by the trust rating tool NewsGuard.
The report is a project in partnership with the UK Government’s Media Literacy Programme Fund. It seeks to understand how misinformation affects older audiences and test tools to combat the most frequent myths. It is primarily aimed at the media literacy industry, but it also provides useful lessons for newsrooms.
Health misinformation ranked as the most concerning topic to over 65s (36 per cent), followed by politics and society (28 per cent) and climate (12 per cent). NewsGuard has identified the top 10 health myths about dementia, cancer and covid-19 vaccines.
Four in five over 65s are concerned about misinformation. The report suggests that the problem is becoming more urgent with the rise of AI-produced content and the growing consumption of online news.
Older audiences are less frequent internet users, but they are part of a broader shift away from traditional sources and towards online and social media. The report also argues that older audiences are more likely to vote and be isolated, meaning the consequences of being swayed by misinformation are potentially greater.
Over 65s who said they suspected they had shared false information did so because it originated from sources they trusted (11 per cent).
NewsGuard is primarily a browser extension that provides reliability and credibility scores for a range of websites, including news websites. It uses a team of trained journalists and nine criteria to generate a NewsGuard rating score between 0-100. It claims to have reviewed 8,000 websites accounting for 95 per cent of news and information consumed across six major countries.
The downside is that this costs news readers £4.95 after a fortnight trial. Partners of the programme were given access to the platform free of charge for a year.
The upside is that UK adults overwhelmingly (96 per cent) felt better equipped to deal with misinformation after using the platform, according to the report.
NewsGuard's UK managing editor Madeline Roache said that research around this subject is scarce and platform solutions will constantly need to be developed to keep pace with the changing nature of misinformation.
"It has been reassuring to learn that the vast majority of people who were trained to use NewsGuard's ratings felt more prepared to avoid misinformation online as a result," she says in an email to Journalism.co.uk.
"It is clear that as AI changes the nature of misinformation and accelerates the scale at which it can spread, further research will need to be carried out into the effects that new kinds of fake news have on older people. Existing tools to combat misinformation will need to keep up with the growing threat of AI."