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Read news over Twitter, FB? Only 24% feel social media can catch fake news

A Reuters report also found that WhatsApp had become a force to reckon with in news media

BS Web Team  |  New Delhi 

Fake news
Representative image

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 In fact, 40 per cent of the respondents still reposed their faith in 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 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 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

Over half of the survey respondents in Malaysia (51 per cent) said they used for sharing or discussing news in a given week, as compared with just three per cent in the US.

Besides Malaysia, the use of 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. 
 

Here are the key findings of the report: 

  • Growth in social media for news is flattening out in some markets, as messaging apps that are (a) more private and (b) tend not to filter content algorithmically are becoming more popular. The use of for news is starting to rival Facebook in a number of markets including Malaysia (51%), Brazil (46%), and Spain (32%).

  • Only a quarter (24%) of our respondents think social media do a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for the Our qualitative data suggest that users feel the combination of a lack of rules and viral algorithms are encouraging low quality and ‘fake news’ to spread quickly.

  • There are wide variations in trust across our 36 countries. The proportion that says they trust the news is highest in Finland (62%), but lowest in Greece and South Korea (23%).

  • In most countries, we find a strong connection between distrust in the media and perceived political bias. This is particularly true in countries with high levels of political polarisation like the United States, Italy, and Hungary.

  • Almost a third of our sample (29%) say they often or sometimes avoid the news. For many, this is because it can have a negative effect on mood. For others, it is because they can’t rely on news to be true.

  • Mobile marches on, outstripping computer access for news in an increasing number of countries. Mobile news notifications have grown significantly in the last year, especially in the US (+8 percentage points), South Korea (+7), and Australia (+4), becoming an important new route to content and giving a new lease of life to news apps.

  • In a related development there has been a significant growth in mobile news aggregators, notably Apple News, but also Snapchat Discover for younger audiences. Both have doubled usage with their target groups in the last year.

  • Smartphones are now as important for news inside the home as outside. More smartphone users now access news in bed (46%) than use the device when commuting to work.

  • Voice-activated digital assistants like the Amazon Echo are emerging as a new platform for news, already outstripping smart watches in the US and UK.

  • In terms of online news subscriptions, we have seen a very substantial ‘Trump bump’ in the US (from 9 to 16%) along with a tripling of news donations. Most of those new payments have come from the young – a powerful corrective to the idea that young people are not prepared to pay for online media, let alone news.

  • Across all countries, only around one in ten (13%) pay for online news but some regions (Nordics) are doing much better than others (Southern Europe and much of Asia).

  • Ad-blocking growth has stalled on desktop (21%) and remains low on smartphones (7%). Over half say they have temporarily disabled their ad-blocker for news in countries like Poland (57%), Denmark (57%), and the United States (52%).

  • We have new evidence that news brands may be struggling to cut through on distributed platforms. In an experiment tracking more than 2,000 respondents in the UK, we found that while most could remember the path through which they found a news story (Facebook, Google, etc.), less than half could recall the name of the news brand itself when coming from search (37%) and social (47%).

  • Austrians and Swiss are most wedded to printed newspapers, Germans and Italians love TV bulletins, while Latin Americans get more news via social media and chat apps than other parts of the world.

First Published: Fri, June 23 2017. 17:15 IST
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