Fake News Dominates Social Media: Survey

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Latest findings by a global survey that 86 percent of internet users have been duped by fake news — most of it spread on Facebook — reveal a deeper information tragedy characterised by distrust of the internet and growing concern over the adverse impact this has on economies and politics.

The 2019 CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust, conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), in partnership with the Internet Society (ISOC) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), showed that internet users have been duped by fake news most of it spread on Facebook.

According to the report, Facebook was the most commonly cited source of fake news, with 77 percent of Facebook users globally saying they witnessed fake news on the site, followed by 62 percent of Twitter users and 74 percent of other social media users.

About 10 percent of Twitter users said they closed their accounts in the past year as a direct result of fake news, while 9 percent of Facebook users reported doing the same.

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service, is the main carrier of fake news and viral hoaxes in Zimbabwe and most other countries.

The United States was the biggest culprit in terms of spreading fake news, followed by Russia and China, according to the annual Ipsos survey of more than 25 000 internet users in 25 countries.

The survey also showed that one-third (35 percent) pointed to the US as the country most responsible for disruptive effect of fake news, trailed by Russia (12 percent) and China (9 percent).

Fake news appeared to be most prevalent on Facebook, but also on YouTube, blogs and Twitter, the pollsters found. According to the survey results, people in Egypt were the most gullible while respondents in Pakistan were the most sceptical.

The results also revealed widespread distrust of social media companies and growing concerns over online privacy and biases baked into algorithms used by internet companies.

Eight of 10 (78 percent) people surveyed were concerned about their online privacy, with over half (53 percent) more concerned than they were a year ago.

It’s for the fifth consecutive year that a majority of those surveyed said that worry about their online privacy. The poll — which relied on both in-person and online interviews —was conducted between December 21, 2018 and February 10, 2019 on behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI).

Most respondents supported efforts by governments and internet companies to combat fake news, from social media and video sharing platforms deleting fake news posts and videos (85 percent) and accounts (84 percent) to the adoption of automated approaches to content removal (79 percent) and government censorship of online content (61 percent).

Nearly seven in 10 people familiar with blockchain technology believed that it will affect every sector of the economy (68 percent), that it should be implemented as widely as possible (67 percent), and that it will have an impact equivalent to the advent of the internet (67 percent).

Zimbabwe, too, is also battling against misinformation and the spread of fake news, which has in most parts of the world led to violence, lynching, killings, looting and damage to property running into thousands of dollars.
Misinformation can be very difficult to correct and may have lasting effects even after it is discredited.

This has forced media and communication regulatory authorities worldwide and messaging companies to take rigorous steps to review the operations of social media messaging applications.

Gullible people in Zimbabwe are forced to consume fake messages that are spammed by malicious actors. Inadvertently, people then become a tool in the hands of unscrupulous elements who create such fake messages.

WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned encrypted messaging service, is the main carrier of fake news and viral hoaxes in Zimbabwe and most other countries.

Messages circulating on WhatsApp groups in the country range from jaunty good morning messages and all kinds of greetings to gossip, jokes, pornography and lots of fake news, hoaxes and rumours.

When it comes to fake news and hoaxes, people can believe messages forwarded by friends and relatives on WhatsApp at face value.

During the January 2019 protests, the peddling of violent scenes, images, hate messages and mockery of the Government was rampant, fomenting mistrust between the Government and the masses.

Government had to shut down social media access to prevent it from being misused to spread rumours and irresponsible statements that were leading to more violence, looting, destruction of property and the spread of hate messages.

Misinformation has long-term implications. It may continue to influence beliefs and attitudes long after it has been debunked. Social responsibility and dialogue then becomes key in managing misinformation, mistrust and hate.

The rise of fake news highlights the need for a new system of safeguards — fact checking, control and the striking of a good balance between the right to access credible information and freedom to communicate. In the build up to the 2018 elections, even the mainstream press was exposed to fake news distributed on social networks.

All this pointed to the diminishing capacity of newsrooms to verify information from social media, in the race to be first with the news.

Social media networks have been blamed for freely generating information and sharing it, removing the editorial responsibility and self-restraint that is often found in traditional media.

Social media actors operate in what critics say is “extra-territorially” out of reach from the societies they offend against.

Due to the pain and misery brought by fake news, most people now want both governments and social media companies to crack down on these activities which they say are contributing to a growing distrust of the internet as well as negatively impacting economies and political discourse.

Last December, the Zimbabwe Cabinet approved the Principles of the Cyber Protection, Data Protection, and Electronic Transactions Bill to keep hawkers of fake news in check.

Digital and media actors have reviewed the Bill, largely seeking to strike a balance between excessive control by Government and the need for media freedom.

The Bill is meant to provide comprehensive guidelines of what constitutes and what doesn’t constitute a cybercrime in relation to the use; of a person’s (electronic) data and electronic transactions.

Zimbabwe has an estimated 5,2 million WhatsApp users out of a population of 15 million, according to a local technology blog.

The country’s mobile penetration rate stands at 92 percent and there are 12,7 million active mobile subscriptions. The rate of internet access is 55,4 percent, according to official statistics.

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