People below the age of 20 and above the age of 50 are more likely to believe fake news and those relatively new to use of internet still do not grasp the concept of fake information over these platforms, reveals a new survey ‘Countering Misinformation (Fake News) in India’ that has been conducted jointly by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and Factly, in the wake of the 2019 General Elections.
The study points out that background evidence and trust in organisations/persons are what make most people to believe in the information they receive on social media, even if otherwise they would have disregarded it. At least 40% of the respondents believed in ‘misinformation’ received over social media if it came with leading backgrounds and evidence, while 34% of them believe the information when it is shared by a trustworthy organisation.
The dominant factor that drives people to forward such information is their belief that it might benefit others and help in their safety. In fact, that was the response of almost 50% of the respondents. This was compounded by the fact that at least 20% of the respondents expressed their lack of trust over conventional media (with suggestions of them being corrupted or paid media) and thus their faith in contents shared by common people over social media.
But even then, newspapers still remain the top source of information for most. At least 53% of the respondents trust what is generally perceived as neutral media and only 29% trust technology and social media platforms.
However, what was surprising was that was almost 45% of the respondents did not even know about the existence of fact-checking organisations and most did not even know that journalists had to verify data before they it out. Only 26% of the respondents believe it is the responsibility of the media to curb or identify fake news. Many respondents also put the responsibility of identifying such fake news on an individual.
It was found that most people do not verify the information before passing them on and only do so when they are pushed to do so. What drives most people to share information received by them is the need to be accepted by their social groups. “Moral outrage and bias are a huge factor in people having an uptake for information that is unverified. There is need to be a part of a group and social acceptance within their networks also drives people to share unverified information,” highlights the survey.
Another observation the study made was that as the age of the respondents increased, friends or friend groups and groups based on political/social/cultural beliefs of a person was chosen by a large number of respondents as their main source of information on social media.
To counter this, the study states that it is important to build a consensus and formulate a clear definition of what is referred to as fake news. Additionally, digital and media literacy was highlighted as a prime point of focus by many stakeholders as most of the respondents felt that the onus of identifying fake news rested with everyone. Since the survey has found that first time or early users of the internet platforms are more susceptible to fake news than others, there is a need for building capacities and creating a National Civic Digital Literacy Strategic plan.
The survey covered 891 respondents, along with structured interviews of 30 interviewees from the technology and internet service providers, government officials, law enforcement, media and influencers, fact checkers, academia political parties.