Seeking the truth: Study finds that many Indians use social media to get facts10 min readReading Time: 6 minutes
Today, we’re dealing with facts. What is a fact? How do we know that something is a fact? Why do we need to be careful about where we get our facts? These are just some of the questions we will be tackling through this article today.
Let’s start with a definition:
How do you get your facts?
Your parents or other elders?
A new study sheds some light on how people in India get their facts. As many as 54% of people in India turn to social media when looking for factual information, according to a global study by Oxford University Press (OUP). The research-led campaign ‘The Matter of Fact’ looked at the level of understanding of how truths are identified and sources validated. This essentially means — how do we know what we are reading as ‘facts’, are actually facts?
The virus that is misinformation is all over the great wide web. It could be because writers don’t check facts, because some publications and website want to change people’s opinions about something, or simply because something false goes viral and people accept that as the truth.
Despite concerns around misinformation and false claims, social media users around the world continue to believe that the information they read and share on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook is factually correct, the study said.
The findings show that when looking for factual information, 37% turn to social media, rising to 43% of Mexicans and South Africans and 54% of Indians. Britons were less likely to look for facts using social media, with only 16% describing it as a preferred source, compared to nearly 29% Americans.
Overall, most of us rely heavily on Google and other search engines for information, with two thirds (67%) worldwide and 62% in the UK finding facts this way. Three-quarters of people are confident information they share from social media is accurate.
In India, as many as 87% of people who share information from social media are confident in its truthfulness, slightly above the global average of three quarters, it said.
The popular social media sites
The study takes a broad look at how people across the world seek out information and judge its accuracy, drawing on a pool of evidence from survey data collected from 5,000 people across the UK, the US, South Africa, India, and Mexico.
It found that more than half (52%) said that when it came to distinguishing fact from fiction, sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram play an important role.
At the same time, depending on books and more traditional means of gathering accurate information has declined. For example, less than a third cited non-fiction books and encyclopedias as sources when seeking facts.
There were geographical differences in the level of trust people put in social media, with almost 80% of Indian and 60% of Mexican respondents seeing these networks as an important tool for separating fact from fiction.
The age criteria
People under the age of 55 were more inclined to believe in the accuracy of the material they shared on social media while 35% of people aged 25 to 44 said they were ‘very confident’ they were sharing only truthful information on social media and only 13% of over 55 felt the same, it found.
Younger people are also more likely to rely on social media as a source of factual information, with over 44% of those in the 25 to 44 age-bracket turning to the platforms compared to just 12% of over 55, the study said.
The pandemic does appear to have had an impact on people’s perceptions of truth, with around three in four people agreeing that they are now more cautious about the accuracy of the information they encounter — a figure that climbs to over 80% in India, Mexico, and South Africa, the study said. The example of the garlic cure above is one instance of fake news being spread about the pandemic!
Notably, parents from India were much more likely than those elsewhere to use social media and WhatsApp when teaching their children, with around 30% citing these sources.
OUP India MD Sumanta Datta said with over 87% of Indians placing their trust and confidence in information circulating on social media, there is a need to understand the potential impact of factual inaccuracies and misinformation.
“In a country like India, with a large young population, it is imperative to build processes and policies that help raise a well-informed, intelligent, and perceptive future generation,” he said.
How do you check if something is factual?
The internet comes with an overload of information. Though this has been a boon for people across the globe, the internet does have a dark side.
Photoshop shows you pictures of things that didn’t actually happen, websites have articles with fake content, and amateur journalists invent impressive statistics that are actually a hoax. On the internet, anything may look real, but it isn’t always.
So, how do we know we are looking at the truth? Go through Owliver’s checklist on how to spot real from fake!
1. Check the headline
If the headline uses excessive punctuation or capital letters, it might be a good thing to dig a little deeper. It’s screaming for your attention. If the headline makes a claim about containing a secret or telling you something that “the media” doesn’t want you to know, your alarm bell should be going crazy.
2. Use Google images
Google’s image search tool can be used to fact check and research images. This way, you can check if the image in question has been edited or is real.
3. Question the publisher/author
We use Google to find information on certain topics. Most of the time, we just click on the first result that appears on Google without looking at the link. You must always question the reliability of the publisher before using the information from a website.
Look for credibility in the articles. This can be the “about us” page on a website, or you can look for the author bio in the article.
4. Easy sharing
Is the resource easy to share? Take a meme for example: They get shared a lot, but the content isn’t reliable at all. It’s created by a random person in another corner of the world, with an opinion and with or without checking the facts.
5. How did you find it?
How did you bump into this resource? Was it promoted on a website? Was it advertised on Google? Did it show up in a social media feed? Was it sent to you by someone you know?
Sometimes it’s very easy to distinguish spam and promotion from real facts.
6. Dates matter
If you come across a page with a large amount of broken links, this post isn’t up to date, so neither will be the information on it probably. You also need to check the date. Information in a post from three years ago may not have much of an impact anymore. Who knows what new things could have happened by now that makes the content completely irrelevant.
7. Check more sources
It’s always better to check 2 or more sources to verify information. The more resources state the same facts, the more likeable it is the information is true.
If you have checked all the above boxes, then you have probably come
across a nice big juicy fact!
Sources: PTI, Washington Post, NPR