You can’t believe everything you read on the internet – especially these days, with so many false claims and misleading stories. Some governments have even taken to blocking social media to prevent ‘rumours’ spreading. In fact, no less than 32 countries in Asia restrict social media platforms in some way.
China, Iran, North Korea, and Turkmenistan go one step further and enforce full bans across popular social media platforms. China, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea also have full bans on Virtual Private Networks (VPN), which allow users to get round geographical restrictions. A further 11 impose restrictions on VPNs – but fortunately they are still widely available in Sri Lanka for those with dollars, which are not quite so available these days.
Nearly 60 per cent of the world’s population, some 4.66 billion people, use the internet. It’s our source of instant information, entertainment, news, and social interactions.
According to a new British study, more than a third of internet users are unaware that online content might be false or biased.
Every minute sees 500 hours of content uploaded to YouTube, 5,000 videos viewed on TikTok and 695,000 stories shared on Instagram. Given the sheer volume of information at the touch of our smartphones, having the right critical skills and understanding to decipher fact from fiction has never been more important.
But new research by the British Telecom regulator, Ofcom, reveals that 30% of UK adults who go online (14.5 million) are unsure about, or don’t even consider, the truthfulness of online information. A further 6% – around one in every twenty internet users – believe everything they see online.
Misinformation can spread quickly on social media platforms. More than four in ten adults say they have seen a story on social media that looked deliberately untrue or misleading in the last year.
To interrogate this trend, participants were shown social media posts and profiles to determine whether they could verify their authenticity. This reveals that users’ confidence in their ability to spot fake content belies their true critical capabilities.
Although seven in 10 adults (69%) said they were confident in identifying misinformation, only two in 10 (22%) were able to correctly identify the tell-tale signs of a genuine post, without making mistakes. There was a similar pattern among older children aged 12-17 (74% confident but only 11% able).
Similarly, around a quarter of adults (24%) and children (27%) who claimed to be confident in spotting misinformation were unable to identify a fake social media profile in practice.
A further six per cent, or about one in every 20 internet users, believe everything they see online.
Four in five adult internet users (81%) want to see tech firms take responsibility for monitoring content on their sites and apps. Two thirds (65%) also want protection against inappropriate or offensive content.
In a volatile and unpredictable world, it’s essential that everyone has the tools and confidence to separate fact and fiction online – whether it’s about money, health, world events or other people.
But many adults and children are struggling to spot what might be fake. Ofcom now wants tech firms to prioritise rooting out harmful misinformation, before the regulator is forced to take action against them.
In the meantime, Ofcom is offering tips on what to consider when you’re browsing or scrolling the web.
1) Check the source. This isn’t necessarily who shared the information with you, but where it originated from.
2) Question the source. Are they established and trustworthy, or might they have a reason to mislead?
3) Take a step back. Before you take something at face value, think about your own motives for wanting to believe it.
The study also found that 33% of parents of five to seven-year-olds and 60% of parents of eight to 11-year- olds reported their children having a social media profile, despite them being under the minimum age requirement of 13 for most sites.
TikTok, in particular, is growing in popularity, even among the youngest age groups.
Amazingly, 16% of three to four-year-olds and 29% of five to seven-year-olds are using the platform, even though the app is supposed to be for people aged 13 and over.
Ofcom warned that many children could be ‘tactically’ using other accounts or ‘finstas’ – fake Instagrams – to conceal aspects of their online lives from parents. However, not a problem in place where the platform is blocked.
By Michael Gregson