Nearly half of social media users who share articles have passed on fake news, study suggests

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Right-wingers are apparently more likely to spread what they know to be fake, while left-wingers are more likely to try to correct it

It may become even more difficult to ‘distinguish truth from falsehood’ on social media such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook
It may become even more difficult to ‘distinguish truth from falsehood’ on social media such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook ( AFP/Getty )

More than four in 10 people who share political news on social media admit they have passed on false or inaccurate items, according to a new academic study.

Almost a fifth (18.7 per cent) said they do so deliberately to upset others, according to the research.

The authors of the study, undertaken by Loughborough University’s Online Civic Culture Centre (OCCC), said the findings should “ring the alarm that cynicism has taken hold among a substantial minority of British social media users”.  TOP ARTICLES1/5READ MORERocketman review: Taron Egerton excels as theintroverted extrovert

It found Conservative supporters and social media users with right-wing ideological beliefs were more likely to spread news they knew to be fake, while Labour supporters and left-wingers were more likely to try to correct it.

Men were more likely to intentionally share false news than women and younger internet users, and those with an interest in politics were also found to pass on more false information.

Overall, more than half (57.7 per cent) of British social media users contacted for the study said they had seen what they believed was political “fake news” in the past month.

Some 42.8 per cent admitted sharing false news items, including 17.3 per cent who said they knew the information was made up when they shared it.

Around one-third (33.8 per cent) said they had been corrected by other social media users but only 8.5 per cent said they had personally called out another person for sharing completely made-up news.

When asked why they shared political news items on social media such as FacebookTwitterInstagram and WhatsApp, 65.5 per cent said they did so “to express my feelings” and the same number “to inform others”.

Just over half (51.1 per cent) said they did it to find out others’ opinions, 43.9 per cent to influence others, 43.7 per cent to provoke discussion, 33.5 per cent to entertain, 29.6 per cent to feel like they belong to a group and 29.4 per cent to demonstrate their knowledge of politics.

Some 24.2 per cent said they did it to please others and 18.7 per cent to upset them.

The report described the numbers admitting to deliberately setting out to upset as “troubling”.

“If almost one-fifth of UK social media users who share news see upsetting others as a distinct priority, a mutually reinforcing relationship between social media and emotional antagonism may become embedded in online civic culture,” warned its authors, led by the OCCC’s director Professor Andrew Chadwick.

The report identified a general problem of “declining trust, cynicism and withdrawal” among UK social media users.

“If the trends we identify in this report continue, many people are generally less likely to encounter the kind of interactions that might make a difference to the quality of the news they share,” the report warned.

“Over time, this situation may contribute to low levels of awareness on social media of the quality of different types of news and a damaging cultural norm that ‘anything goes’ when sharing news online.

“If unchecked, this may make it more difficult to establish the minimal conditions required to distinguish truth from falsehood – conditions that enable citizens to engage in meaningful discussion across political divides.”

Professor Chadwick said: “In today’s media systems, large numbers of ordinary citizens circulate political information with great regularity.

“Consequently, false and misleading information can become widely distributed – and quickly.

“Exploring why, and with what effects, people share news about politics on social media is therefore an essential part of the broader debate about the relationship between the internet and democracy.”

Opinium Research questioned 2,005 British adults for the study between 5 and 16 July 2018.

Press Association

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