Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Gen Z may be more immune to the lure of misinformation because younger people apply more context, nuance and skepticism to their online information consumption, experts and new polling suggests.

Why it matters: An innate understanding of social media influence, virality and algorithms among Gen Z — defined by Pew as the cohort born between 1997 and 2012 — could disarm the misinformation and disinformation racking the U.S.

Driving the news: 83% of Gen Z college students said they get the majority of their news from social media or online news sites, according to a new survey from polling firm College Reaction of 868 students provided exclusively to Axios.

  • Despite it being their go-to source for news, young people are skeptical of social media. Just 7% said they found it to be the most trustworthy news platform.
  • More than half said online newspapers or media sites were the most trustworthy, and 16% chose physical newspapers.

Younger people are confident in their ability to detect false information, but have little faith in older generations.

  • 69% of Gen Z students said it is somewhat or very easy for them to distinguish real news from misinformation. Half said they think it is "very difficult" for older generations.
  • Studies have found the youngest American adults are far less likely to share misinformation online than are older Americans.
  • "Young people are internet locals," College Reaction founder Cyrus Beschloss told Axios. "Because they swim through so much content, they're wildly savvy at spotting bogus content."

How it works: As the first generation to grow up with social media, Gen Z has an innate understanding of how to create and move online content, which makes them less susceptible to misinformation.

  • Nearly half (46%) of college students said that they intentionally like, comment on or share content to train the algorithms to give them similar information and media.
  • Most older generations — even millennials — don't always understand online influencer culture, the utility of hashtags or how to intentionally curate their feed.

The big picture: Misinformation and fake news won't go away with the next generation, experts said. But it will be far better understood.

  • Most misinformation is just "influence and agenda-driven communications that older generations don’t understand," Jonathon Morgan, CEO of AI software company Yonder, told Axios.
  • Boomers, Gen Xers and even some millennials often don’t know how this kind of information gets into their feeds. “They feel duped,” Morgan said, “And because they feel duped, they label it as misinformation and disinformation.”

What to watch: Gen Z is using its online savvy to advance its own values and priorities, said Jason Dorsey, author of Zconomy: How Gen Z Will Change the Future of Business.

  • TikTokers and KPop fans, for example, pushed a campaign to reserve tickets for President Trump's Tulsa rally, but then never attend.
  • The Instagram blackout in response to the killing of George Floyd was driven by young people, who also urged users to avoid using the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter in their captions to preserve educational information collected under the hashtag.
  • Gen Z has driven the transformation of Instagram into a social justice information and education hub.

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Ina Fried, author of Login
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