Fake news, the new threat in the information age, is not solely a product of the internet or social media, though they have "exacerbated" the problem, the Digital News Report 2017
by the Reuters Institute said.
Instead, the report said that in many countries it was good old-fashioned political polarisation and a perception among people that the mainstream media is biased that has "as much to do" with the prevalent mistrust.
However, by no means does this let social media off the hook. Only close to a quarter, 24 per cent to be exact, of the respondents who participated in the study felt that social media did a "good job" of filtering out fake news.
In fact, 40 per cent of the respondents still reposed their faith in news media
when it came to separating fact from fiction.
The research, carried out by the Reuters Institute For The Study of Journalism, analysed data from 34 countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia, besides Taiwan and Hong Kong. The study involved responses from over 70,000 people.
So, other than the obvious reasons, what lead to such a low score for social media according to data? "A lack of rules and viral algorithms are
encouraging low quality and ‘fake news’ to spread quickly," the report said citing data gathered from users.
However, despite the unflattering (as far as social media's accuracy credentials are concerned) findings, the report also said that while "echo chambers" and "bubbles" did indeed exist, users of social media and online search engines were still exposed to more diversity than non-users. The term "bubble" refers to a situation where users only consume news which conforms with and reinforces their political, social, and religious beliefs, often divorced from actual fact.
But who were the 'winners', so to say, according to the report, which the institute said came amid intense soul-searching in the news industry? Messaging app WhatsApp
was a clear gainer. WhatsApp, according to the report, has emerged as a force to reckon with in news media, apparently at the cost of its owner Facebook.
"We've been tracking the growth of WhatsApp
for some time but its use for news has jumped significantly in the last year to 15 per cent, with considerable country-based variation," said the authors of the Digital News Report 2017.
Over half of the survey respondents in Malaysia (51 per cent) said they used WhatsApp
for sharing or discussing news in a given week, as compared with just three per cent in the US.
Besides Malaysia, the use of WhatsApp
for news is starting to rival Facebook in a number of markets, including Brazil (46 per cent), and Spain (32 per cent).
The researchers found that the use of Facebook for news has dipped in most of the countries they surveyed.
This may just be a sign of market saturation, or it may relate to changes in Facebook algorithms in 2016, which prioritised friends and family communication over professional news content, according to the report.