We are in a misinformation crisis. The speed that we receive information in real time, coupled with so much happening in the news, can leave a viewer with headline whiplash. Through the latest edition of our Youth Decoded series, we look at how Generation Z is impacted by the misinformation that’s spreading around the world. Though today’s teens and young adults are digital natives, we found they’re not just susceptible, they’re also perpetrators.


As the world faces a pandemic, civil unrest and contested elections, access to trustworthy information has never been more important. But confidence in the institutions that are meant to provide this information is declining. According to Morning Consult, in the US over the course of just three months earlier this year (April-June 2020) overall trust in institutions among Americans 13-23 years old eroded from 56% to 46%. Trust in individual institutions is also at all-time lows, with millennial trust trailing other generations and Gen Z even lower. Over the same period, Morning Consult also found that American Gen Z’s trust in the police fell 24 points, in government 17 points, the criminal justice system 14 points, and in media 13 points. This lack of trust, particularly in media, creates a vacuum that allows misinformation to thrive.


Fake news and misinformation are not new or targeted to any one generation. Though younger generations are more tech-savvy, they can still be digitally naïve. While MindEdge found that over half of American 18-31s (59%) feel very confident in their digital literacy skills, YPulse found that two-thirds (67%) of 13-39s globally admit they have been fooled by a fake news story. Additionally, MindEdge found that about half (52%) of respondents age 18-31 in the US failed to recognize at least half of the fake news stories in a 9-question test. This misinformation can come in many forms, from silly memes or jokes taken out of context to more nefarious disinformation campaigns. The challenge is that the onus is largely on users to spot disinformation and that’s becomingly increasingly difficult – even for digital natives like Gen Z.


Social media platforms are rampant with disinformation and trust in them is waning. All platforms face this issue, and the places where Gen Z likes to hang out are no exception. Though only a global minority of 13-25s (19%) say they trust the sources of news and information available to them, what makes this dangerous is that according to YPulse about two-thirds (68%) of Gen Z globally use social media as a news source. This creates an environment where youth consume news alongside content that’s meant for comfort, humor, and entertainment. This blurring of content types on one platform ultimately leads to the idea that news should not only inform but entertain.

If Gen Z is not consuming entertainment news, they’re creating it. Nearly three-quarters (71%) of 18-24s globally create content (memes, digital art, photos, videos, music, or writing) and globally, half (50%) of 12-24s believe that memes are a good way to spread information. This way of sharing information allows young people to have a voice, as 6-in-10 (61%) of 13-24s globally believe social media gives them a platform to speak out about issues they care about. However, these self-created infotainment shares also blur the line between news and entertainment, often contributing to the cycle of misinformation.

But not all is lost. According to YPulse, about half (54%) of Gen Z globally recognize that social media is full of fake news. If given the power to impact an issue, about a quarter (24%) of 13-25s globally would choose the misinformation crisis, which was the #4 issue behind climate change, racial inequality, and terrorism.  Given how vocal they are about issues they’re passionate about, we hope that misinformation is a problem that Gen Z will choose to combat as they get older.