Fake News, Disinformation Campaigns on Rise as More Americans Use Social Media to Get News
More Americans are consuming news from social media platforms despite their concern for fake news shared on social media and the growing proliferation of organized disinformation campaigns.
Even though social media channels are easy targets for widespread disinformation campaigns and fake news, most Americans still rely on social media to obtain news, the latest study from Pew Research Center revealed. The Pew poll showed that 55% of Americans read stories from social media platforms, up from 47% last year.
However, the majority of U.S. adults (more than 60%) also feel that social media has too much control over news, arguing that the role of social media channels makes a worse mix of news. Only 15% said that the presence of social media enhances their news knowledge.
The survey was carried out in mid-July of 2019, involving more than 5,000 American adults. The study raises concern over Americans’ trust in news circulated on social media despite still reading information garnered from social media.
“As heated debate continues over how social media sites can improve the quality of news on their platforms while enforcing rules fairly, most Americans are pessimistic about these efforts and are highly concerned about several issues when it comes to social media and news,” according to the poll.
Ahead of the U.S. presidential election in 2020, most Americans see the circulation of unverified information as one of the country’s main problems. A Pew Research Center study published in June showed that 50% of Americans see fake news and disinformation as a “very big problem in the country today,” placing it ahead of other issues such as illegal immigration, racism and terrorism.
Additionally, nearly seven-in-ten U.S. adults (68%) say made-up news and information greatly impacts Americans’ confidence in government institutions, and roughly half (54%) say it is having a major impact on our confidence in each other.
False information spread in some of the U.S.-based social media channels such as Whatsapp and Instagram (Facebook owns both) will be more threatening than that from foreign sources, a study from NYU said in September.
“While Russian operatives and other foreign-based actors are all but certain to surface (or resurface) in 2020, a greater volume of disinformation probably will come from domestic U.S. sources. Some of these domestic sources will be obscure…others will be better known,” the report explained.
A 2018 study by Richard Hunter, Paul A. Beck, and Erik C. Nisbet from Ohio State University showed that the spread of false news might have helped Donald Trump to win the 2016 election. The paper claimed that 4% of the voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012, switched to elect Trump due to false news on the then-Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Social Media Manipulation Is on the Rise
Coordinated social media manipulation efforts in 70 countries have increased 150% in the past two years, a recent report by the Oxford Internet Institute titled “The Global Disinformation Order 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation” disclosed.
“Evidence of organized social media manipulation campaigns, which have taken place in 70 countries, up from 48 countries in 2018 and 28 countries in 2017. In each country, there is at least one political party or government agency using social media to shape public attitudes domestically,” the report said.
“Although there is nothing necessarily new about propaganda, the affordances of social networking technologies – algorithms, automation, and big data – change the scale, scope, and precision of how information is transmitted in the digital age.” – Global Disinformation Disorder 2019
The report found “computational propaganda” – the use of algorithms, automation, and big data to shape public life – is primarily being used in three ways: to suppress fundamental human rights, to discredit political opposition and to drown out political dissent. According to the report’s data, 87% of such propaganda campaigns use human-operated accounts, 80% use bot operated accounts and 11% use cyborg accounts – a blend of human and bot automation.
Facebook is still the most favored social media channel governments around the world use to disseminate propaganda to back their policies, the research revealed. Facebook is the most widely chosen due to its user-friendly platforms and global reach. As of the second quarter of 2019, the number of Facebook users has reached 2.41 billion monthly active users worldwide, data from Statista showed.
The social network giant continues to try to combat disinformation and hate speech by removing false accounts. Most recently, on October 3, Facebook deleted hundreds of fake accounts in Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the tech company announced in a release.
Why Do People Trust Fake News and Share It on Social Media?
Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Luba Kessler explained in a Psychology Today article that it could simply be about pleasure. From a psychological point of view, false information has an entertaining effect that temporarily removes people’s life burdens.
“Perhaps made up stories simply entertain us. Like gossip, they are usually titillating and sensational, and many times they feature a clear villain we can blame. Sometimes fake news is just silly and humorous. But it’s deeper than that. The stimulation of fake news fulfills a craving to relieve the burdens of our lived realities,” Kessler explained.
Research also shows that people are more prone to believe false information if it agrees with their own attitudes and beliefs.
In what was dubbed the largest study ever on fake news, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers found that fake news pieces were 70% more likely to be retweeted while real stories took six times to reach 1,500 Twitter users. People also tend to believe what they read first, regardless of whether it is accurate or not. Despite clarifications that come out later, their minds still stick with the first news they receive.
The onus is on individual social media users to verify what they read on either online media outlets or social media channels to find accurate information. Also, it is crucial to sense whether the information aims to discredit certain groups or people or is unbiased.