SINGAPORE: Many consumers around the world are concerned about fake news but the term itself is “deeply problematical” as audiences interpret it to include poor quality news, and not just completely made-up news.

According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018, based on a survey of 74,000 people across 37 markets, 54% said they were concerned over what is real and fake on the internet.

But when they were asked about the types of fake news they have personally encountered, 42% of respondents singled out poor journalism, mistakes and clickbait. Thirty-nine percent also said they had seen spin and agenda-filled news.

“Their main complaint is poor journalism,” said Nic Newman, the lead author of the report, speaking during at webinar hosted by Thomson Reuters where he dubbed fake news a “deeply problematic term”. (For more, read WARC’s report: Fake news, trust and social media- how digital news is being consumed.)

The growth of fake news has been closely linked to the growth of social media, especially Facebook, but this platform has seen reverse growth for its use for news, from over 40% in 2016 to 36% in 2018.

There are several possible reasons for this, not least Facebook’s own decision to de-prioritise news in its algorithm. But other social networks have also proven to be “more enticing” alternatives, Newman suggested, with WhatsApp in particular finding traction in many markets.

“There is a very high correlation between concerns about posting openly on politics, and the rise of apps like WhatsApp,” he added. In Malaysia, for example, 57% of respondents said they thought carefully before posting on such matters for fear of trouble with authorities, and 54% used WhatsApp for news.

The potential problems of relying on WhatsApp for news have recently become an issue in India where misinformation disseminated via the app has been blamed for several mob lynchings, leading the app to take out newspapers ads this week advising users on how to spot fake news.

“It’s interesting to think, if you increase news literacy, you can increase trust,” said Newman. “But what we find is that if you increase news literacy, you increase scepticism and reduce trust – so people who are more news literate actually tend to trust the news not a lot more.”

Sourced from WARC