Washington, September 9 : New research from Ohio State University suggests that people who watch fake news programmes learn far less about political issues and candidates than those who watch television news shows on networks like CNN and NBC.
However, people watching fake news shows were still found to have learnt more than those who did not watch any political content.
During the study, the university researchers observed that people who watched TV news were more likely to learn about a candidate's position on issues and about political procedures than those who watched the fake news shows.
They said that fake news shows mainly taught viewers about a candidate's personal background.
"Both news and entertainment media seem to promote some knowledge gain, but people who are exposed to news gain more factual information and learn more about a wide range of important topics than those exposed to entertainment media," said Young Mie Kim, co-author of the study and assistant professor of communication at Ohio State.
The researchers say that their findings, appearing in the Journal of Communication, indicate that fake news shows are not as useful in learning about the issues and political procedures central to an election as previously thought.
According to them, such shows are used for forming impressions about a candidate based on their background.
"The end result was people used fake news shows to update their impressions of the candidate immediately, while news shows promoted learning about the candidate, issues, and procedures. People who watched the news shows will presumably use the knowledge they gain over the long-term to develop their opinions about candidates and issues," say the researchers.
Kim believes that such differences in knowledge gain may be due to how people are using fake news shows versus television news.
The researcher says that once people sit down to watch a show, they may have already decided how and if they will use the information presented in each segment.
"Entertainment shows may not be the best choice to learn about candidates or issues or political procedures because people use them to pass time or relax. So they may not be paying attention to all the details. On the other hand, news is meant to be for learning something new, so people try to remember more of the information shown," she said. The study involved eighty-five people in a Midwestern city who were shown 20-minute video segments on the nomination of John Roberts for chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.
Participants ranging from 18 to 64 years old were shown segments from either the NBC evening news and CNN or The Daily Show with Jon Stewart-both containing information about the nomination procedure, John Robert's personal background and issue positions, and reactions from Congress, political parties and issue advocacy groups.
A third group was shown a science documentary of equal length, to compare the effects of both news and entertainment shows to other forms of media without political content.
"A lot of young voters and a lot of people in general watch these shows so we have a lot of entertainment media consumers. Entertainment media may not be ideal for learning about political issues and procedures, but it is still better than nothing," Kim said.