Study shows ubiquity of misinformation as election looms

A new survey from the Alan Turing Institute has found that 19 in 20 citizens periodically encounter false information online, with most of these reporting strong concerns about its effects

More than 85% of UK citizens are “fairly or extremely” concerned about the spread of misinformation across social media, a new report has revealed.

The survey, carried out by The Alan Turing Institute, also found that 80% of respondents have ‘low’ or ‘no’ trust in the UK government, with almost two thirds believing it had tried to mislead them ‘somewhat’ or ‘very much’. Similar results were found regarding mainstream media, with around three quarters of participants sceptical of its reporting.

Gathering almost 2,000 responses from across the country, findings found that 94% of participants had witnessed misinformation on social media “many times” or “occasionally” – yet more than half admitted they had not reported such content. Of those who did report it, only 15% were satisfied with the actions taken in response.

A total of 72% of respondents indicated that they would support sites intervening “behind scenes” and taking measures such as prohibiting users from making money or limiting the visibility of their posts or, in severe cases, screening posts or removing users entirely.

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Despite reporting their concerns, only 3% of survey participants have taken a media literacy course, and 7% have used other self-help tools.

Dr Florence Enock, the Turing’s senior research associate in online safety, said: “With the huge increase in technologies that can quickly and convincingly create and spread false content online, it is critical that the public are equipped with the right tools to protect themselves. However, our research highlights that most people do not use available resources even though they are shown to be effective. It is crucial that more is done to encourage people to use misinformation interventions, such as media literacy courses, and that online platforms provide their users with effective and accessible ways to report misinformation when they see it.”

The findings come as citizens get ready to vote in the general election in less than a month, with voters in the US going to the polls later this year.

Dr Jonathan Bright, the Turing’s head of online safety, added: “Concern about misinformation is undoubtedly extremely high. The lack of trust in mainstream news organisations demonstrates a wider scepticism of information more generally. It’s really important that people feel they can have confidence in information they receive from reliable sources, particularly during a crucial election year for the UK and the US. It’s clear there’s a lot of work to be done to instil confidence in people.”

PublicTechnology staff

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