Forget fake news on Facebook and WhatsApp, it’s newspapers that sway Indians

Watch your click.
Watch your click.
Image: Reuters/Francis Mascarenhas
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If you thought fake news on social media is what influences Indians, think again.

Just 2.7% of Indians believe the information they receive on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp, according to a survey by the non-profit Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and data journalism portal Factly. The real danger is misinformation disseminated by trusted news outlets or their friends and family, most of those surveyed said.

The survey’s 900 participants were distributed relatively evenly across age brackets, but 80% of them were male.

However, there is no doubt that India severely lacks social-media hygiene.

Although they know not to blindly trust opinionated propaganda or social media platforms, over four in 10 Indians haven’t heard of fact-checking organisations, IAMAI found.

“Many respondents also expressed lack of trust over conventional media (with suggestions of them being corrupted or paid) and thus their faith in contents shared by common people over social media,” IAMAI said in a press release on Feb. 21.

Old vs. new media

It is in fact newspapers and websites that are the two most chosen sources of information across all age groups, the survey found.

“…while the debate in the US is hyper-focused on the Facebook newsfeed, globally, the real challenge is closed messaging apps like WhatsApp, Viber, Telegram, and FB Messenger,” the study’s authors, who also conducted semi-structured interviews with a mix of 30 stakeholders such as internet service providers (ISPs), policymakers, media and influencers, fact-checkers, academia, and political parties, wrote. “Those who are relatively new to use of technology, internet and smartphones may be more susceptible to fake news than others.”

And the prevalence of newspapers increased with age. In the oldest bracket, over half the people got their news from newspapers.

Old vs. young people

In an election year, when the fake news epidemic is all set to worsen in India, the IAMAI-Factly survey has found that sections of the country’s population aged above 50 and below 20 are the most easily swayed by fake news. 

In one part of the survey, respondents were given the task of classifying 11 statements—pictures and videos—as “true” or “false,” including the reason for their choice, and this is how they fared:

So, who can really contain the spread of fake information? The onus mostly falls on the media, Indians feel.