To Verify or to Disengage: Coping with “Fake News” and Ambiguity

Andrea Wenzel


In the United States, media that is politically fragmented, distrusted, or labeled as “fake” has amplified an atmosphere of uncertainty surrounding the current moment of partisan division and demographic change. This study uses a communication ecology framework to examine how audiences grapple with pervasive ambiguity as they navigate their media and communication resources. Drawing from a series of 13 focus groups looking at news and social media habits in four U.S. regions, this study explores how residents are adapting their media and communication practices within their communication ecologies. It reveals how residents cycle between verifying information and disengaging from news to relieve stress, and it explores possible pathways to resolve ambiguity.


audience, communication ecologies, “fake news,” news avoidance, pervasive ambiguity, polarization, verification

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