Social media continue to evolve as the most popular source of information, although many users are aware of misinformation and fake news on these platforms. Recently published Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 confirmed that the use of social media increased during the quarantine implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic with WhatsApp seeing the biggest growth of around ten percentage points in some countries.
But people do not use social media just to chat and have fun. They are also considered as primary sources of information. According to the Reuters study, Facebook leads with 36 per cent of social media users consuming news on the platform, followed by YouTube (21%), WhatsApp (16%) and Twitter (12%). Instagram is now getting more popular when it comes to that purpose (11%) and could soon surpass microblogging service.
But why did social networks become such a popular source of information?
“People spend a lot of time on social media. News outlets will post stories on these platforms, and people with also share stories or provide their own opinions on news topics. In a crisis situation official news correspondent reports can be slow (at least in address all concerns or questions that people might have) but social media reports can be more swiftly distributed,” Samantha Vanderslott, social sciences researcher at the Oxford Vaccine Group and the Oxford Martin School, explained to Metro.
The growing popularity of social media as a source of information has also led to an increased presence of fake news. A survey conducted by Statista in 2018 revealed that nearly half of readers report that they see such stories at least once a day. Another study found that Americans of all ages now believe that over 60 per cent of news that they find on social media is fake.
“…We have seen an increase in this phenomenon on social media over the past five years”, Jon-Patrick Allem, director of the Social Media Analytics Lab at the Keck School of Medicine of The University of Southern California, the U.S.
Disinformation has grown hand in hand with digital platforms because fakes are more easily spread through social media.
“On social media, anyone can post and spread fake news and there are limitations for what social media companies do about it, although they have policies and initiatives to try and curb it,” Vanderslott added.
In the equation of fake news, there are two components: those who generate them and those who share them. According to Samantha Vanderslott, “on the one hand are those who seek to get many clicks to generate advertising revenue or gain notoriety. On the other hand, the reason for creating fake news may be ideological to persuade people of a certain viewpoint or cause general confusion and chaos.”
As for the reasons why people share fake news, the expert points out that it happens because they may genuinely believe in its truthfulness. They may not be sure if it is true but it fits their beliefs or viewpoint, and the last one is because they know for sure that it is not true, but it is beneficial for them to share it because of the impacts they think it will have.
Social media users can contribute to ending fake news very easily by taking a few seconds to verify the information before sharing it.
“Taking a moment to make sure the information is accurate before sharing would be a great first step. If you don’t know for certain about the accuracy of the claims or the reliability of the organization, play it safe and don’t share,” Jon-Patrick Allem concluded.
How to detect fake news?
Expert Samantha Vanderslott explained to Metro:
Source. Question the source and check on official websites if stories are repeated there. If a source is vague a vague or untraceable “a friend of a friend”, this could be a rumor unless you also know the person directly. The number of sources also matters. If information is reported by only one source, beware.
Logo. Check whether any organization’s logo used in the message looks the same as on the official website.
Bad grammar and spelling. Credible journalists and organizations are less likely to make repeated spelling and grammar mistakes. Also, anything written entirely in capital letters or containing a lot of exclamation marks should raise your suspicions.
Fake accounts. Some social media accounts mimic the real ones by being very similarly worded. Look out for bogus web addresses too.
Extreme emotion. If something makes you angry or overjoyed, be on your guard, as messages that trigger strong emotions get shared the most.
Over-encouragement to share. Be wary if the message presses you to share – this is how viral messaging works.
Fact-checking websites. Websites such as APFactCheck and Full Fact highlight common fake news stories. You can also use a search engine to look up the title of the article to see if it has been identified as fake news by the mainstream media. Images can also be misleading. You can search for whether an image from an unrelated story is being used.
director of the Social Media Analytics Lab at the Keck School of Medicine of The University of Southern California, the U.S.
Q: Why did social media become a popular source of information?
– Social media has become a popular source of information for many reasons, including that most of the platforms are very user friendly, new posts are available instantaneously, users can self-select into the topics of conversations that interest them the most, as well as follow accounts of people, organizations, companies, and news corporations that they find compelling.
Q: Are social networks reliable?
– There are definitely reliable sources of information on social media platforms. For example, if you were looking for reliable information about the pandemic, you could follow the official accounts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization. Usually these official accounts are marked with a blue checkmark to denote it is a verified account. Having said that, there are a number of actors out there putting out unreliable information or perpetuating unsubstantiated health claims. I would encourage everyone to follow the official accounts from established organizations.
Q: Tell about fake news.
– The term fake news appears to have grown to encompass almost anything that is stated in a deliberately false way. If we focus on disinformation campaigns, the answer to your question is yes, we have seen an increase in this phenomenon on social media over the past five years. If we move away from disinformation campaigns and simply consider a false news story from a media outlet, there are a number of reasons why a media company would run a false story, including to drive traffic to their website and generate revenue. Often times fake news stories are sensational and designed to be widely shared on social media for the purpose of generating buzz in favor of the media company.
Q: What is the purpose of fake news? Why do people share them?
– People, organizations, even state actors use disinformation campaigns to sow discord, manipulate the public, conceal the truth, even sell products, among many other reasons. Initial evidence suggests that many people are unintentionally sharing misinformation simply because they fail to stop and think sufficiently about whether the content is accurate. My team’s research suggests that people’s motivations for sharing in general might also be part of the problem. We have found that Twitter users tend to retweet to show approval, argue, gain attention and entertain. Truthfulness of a post or accuracy of a claim was not an identified motivation for retweeting. That means people might be paying more attention to whether a tweet is popular or exciting than whether its message is true.
Q: How to detect fake news and prevent the spread of misinformation?
– There are a number of facts checking organizations people could reference to help them get a sense of the veracity of a news story. For example, FactCheck.org is a nonprofit website that attempts to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. Other countries have similar organizations. To prevent the spread of misinformation it would be great if people stopped to think about the validity of the content of a post as well as the source of the post before sharing.