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Online disinformation concerns 85% of people, finds a global UNESCO survey

Written by Wed 8 Nov 2023

A total of 85% of respondents are worried about the influence of online disinformation on their fellow citizens, according to an Ipsos survey commissioned by UNESCO. The United Nations (UN) has unveiled guidelines for digital platforms to address this concern.

The ‘Survey on the impact of online disinformation and hate speech found the concern surrounding the influence of disinformation on citizens reaches 88% in countries with high levels of Human Development Index (HDI) and 90% in those with medium to low HDI.

Countries with a top ranking HDI offer a high standard of living, with good healthcare, education, and opportunities to earn money.

Most respondents (87%) believe disinformation has already impacted political life in their country. There was a significant concern that the spread of disinformation could significantly impact the election campaign and voting of many citizens.

Respondents Mistrust Social Media

Ipsos found 68% of Internet users said social media is the place where disinformation is most widespread, ahead of groups on online messaging apps (38%) and media websites and apps (20%).

A total of 78% of respondents said they often read deliberately falsified information on social media. Despite 56% of Internet users frequently using social media to stay informed about current events, nearly all people surveyed (94%) have experienced being misled or influenced by disinformation in the media or on social media before realising it was false. Only 50% of those surveyed said they trusted news from social media. 

Traditional media was the most trusted source in terms of credibility and quality of the news they provide to the public. Radio news and print media news ranked second and third in most trusted sources respectively.

Ipsos stressed the importance of noting that differences exist among population groups. Television is the primary source in the most developed countries, with 55% preferring this type of traditional media compared to 37% for social media. 

Of those surveyed, 67% also said they often encounter hate speech online. LGBT+ people and people of racial minorities are seen as most often targeted. Just over half (54%) of those surveyed think online platforms are doing enough to combat this issue.

Respondents Assign Accountability

Those surveyed strongly believe the issues of disinformation and hate speech must be addressed by both governments and regulatory bodies (88%) and social media platforms (90%). 

A total of 89% of those surveyed believe governments and regulatory bodies should play an active role in combating disinformation and hate speech during election campaigns to protect the integrity of elections. This figure increased to 91% for social media platforms. Ipsos found this was the consensus across all countries, age groups, social demographics, and political preferences. 

International organisations like the UN and UNESCO were considered significant in the fight against disinformation. A total of 75% of those surveyed support this notion, with 33% showing strong endorsement.

The Ipsos survey was conducted in Algeria; Austria; Bangladesh; Belgium; Croatia; the Dominican Republic; El Salvador; Ghana; India; Indonesia; Mexico; Romania; Senegal; South Africa; Ukraine; and the United States.

The survey interviewed internet users aged 18 and above in each of the 16 selected countries. In total, 8,000 individuals were interviewed, with 500 from each country. These countries were chosen due to their upcoming national elections in 2024.

UNESCO Announces Guidelines for Digital Platforms

UNESCO announced a set of Guidelines for the Governance of Digital Platforms organised around seven principles in a bid to curb the spread of disinformation and hate speech. 

The Guidelines outline duties and responsibilities for stakeholders, including global nations, digital platforms, intergovernmental organisations, civil society, media, academia and the technical community. 

The UNESCO Guidelines aim to foster an environment where freedom of expression and information takes precedence in the governance processes of digital platforms.

“If we can no longer distinguish fiction from reality, falsehood from truth, the foundations of our societies crumble. Democracy, dialogue, and debate, all essential to address major contemporary challenges, become impossible,” said Audrey Azoulay, Director General of UNESCO.

Sections of the Guidelines are dedicated to the measures needed to guarantee electoral integrity. This will be enforced through electoral risk assessments, clear content-flagging and greater transparency of political advertising and its targeting.

UNESCO calls for human rights-based decision-making, global independent regulators, improved content moderation, and greater transparency in social media algorithms. They also promote social media user education and stronger measures during elections and crises.

UNESCO’s Guidelines are the result of a consultation process on a scale ‘unprecedented’ within the United Nations system. UNESCO gathered over 10,000 contributions from 134 countries over the last 18 months. 

Independent regulators have confirmed their readiness to implement UNESCO’s measures, although UNESCO has not disclosed their identities. UNESCO is set to host the inaugural World Conference of Regulators in mid-2024.

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Written by Wed 8 Nov 2023

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