Issue stance and perceived journalistic motives explain divergent audience perceptions of fake news

Tsang, Stephanie Jean

Issue stances have always been an important factor in audiences’ news processing, and this study found that audiences’ attributions of motives to journalists can also affect news evaluations, particularly regarding whether a story is fake news. By exposing participants in Hong Kong to a news post (N = 215) via an online experiment, the findings suggest participants with opposing issue stances on the extradition bill controversy are likely to perceive the exact same new story as inaccurate and fake to significantly different degrees, consistent with the line of hostile media perceptions research. More notably, the phenomenon can be explained by the motives participants attribute to journalists. Among bill supporters, perceiving the journalists to be advocating mediates the relationship between perceived news inaccuracy and news fakeness; whereas perceiving journalists to be defending the authorities mediates the same relationship among bill opponents. Overall, the importance of motive attributions should not be ignored in journalism studies.