Cover: Media Habits and Misinformation Susceptibility of Adults Aged 55 Years and Older

Media Habits and Misinformation Susceptibility of Adults Aged 55 Years and Older

Findings from a RAND American Life Panel Survey

Published Feb 28, 2024

by Alice Huguet, Julia H. Kaufman, Melissa Kay Diliberti

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Research Questions

  1. How are adults aged 55 years and older using social media to get information about political and social issues?
  2. How concerned are adults aged 55 years and older about the spread of misinformation and disinformation online?
  3. How confident are adults aged 55 years and older in their ability to identify and prevent the spread of misinformation and disinformation?
  4. What sources of information do adults aged 55 years and older trust?
  5. What modes of learning do adults aged 55 years and older prefer?

Studies suggest that a significant number of adults aged 55 years and older are online and that they may be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of false and misleading information. Although individuals of all ages are susceptible to misinformation, research implies that false and misleading information could have an outsized influence on this important group of voters. These factors could make older adults a target for malign actors intent on shaping U.S. elections. For example, inaccurate information could sway individual voting decisions — even the choice of whether to vote at all — and might even influence election outcomes.

To address these issues, decisionmakers must better understand older Americans' concerns and preferences as they relate to their media habits, their understanding of the challenges posed by false and misleading information online, who and what they trust for reliable information, and how to best provide education to improve their media literacy competencies during a presidential election season.

To explore these topics, the authors conducted a survey of nearly 1,000 adults aged 55 years and older from across the United States via the RAND American Life Panel in fall 2022. The authors share key findings across these topics, by age group (55–64 years, 65–74 years, and 75 years and older), and conclude with a discussion that includes key implications for decisionmakers to consider.

Key Findings

  • About one-third of surveyed adults (aged 55 years and older) said that they look at social media posts about social or political issues every day. Only about 5 percent of these same adults reported that they create, share, or comment on such posts on a daily basis.
  • Three-quarters of surveyed adults indicated being very concerned about the spread of misinformation and disinformation online; few reported that they were concerned about being fooled by either.
  • Surveyed adults regarded posts shared on social media by public figures, radio talk show hosts, and national news media as less trustworthy sources of information than information received directly from conversations with family and friends.
  • Surveyed adults said that they would prefer to learn about ways to avoid misinformation and disinformation online through articles and videos rather than through other means, such as podcasts or online games.

Research conducted by

This study was sponsored by a gift from the Brothers Brook Foundation and conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

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