Majority of social media users not bothered about absolute facts: Report | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Majority of social media users not bothered about absolute facts: Report

BySnehashish Roy
May 05, 2022 04:17 PM IST

A study by the Future of India Foundation has used focused group discussions with Indian youngsters to find out their social media habits and their understanding of the impacts of misinformation and harmful content.

NEW DELHI: The majority of social media users are not bothered about absolute facts and only confirm or verify online information where the ‘alleged individual events were less important than the overall narrative’, according to a report by the Future of India Foundation titled ‘Politics of Disinformation’.

The study has found that 70% of internet users in India are below 35 years of age, which constitutes 65% of the country’s population. (Representational Image)
The study has found that 70% of internet users in India are below 35 years of age, which constitutes 65% of the country’s population. (Representational Image)

The study talks about the loopholes in the current approaches to tackle mis/disinformation in the country. The study also discusses the low political will and lesser prioritisation given in policymaking to combat the spread of disinformation in India.

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“The key takeaway from the focus group discussions is that not only have social media platforms disrupted the information ecosystem in India but that they have allowed themselves to be weaponised by vested interests in ways which are leading to real-world harm without investing in meaningful safeguards,” said Ruchi Gupta, co-founder and director of Future of India Foundation. She said they have submitted a copy of the report in front of the parliament standing committee on Information Technology.

According to the study, a large section of the users is considered to be massive consumers of information, where the content is pushed to the recipient and they showcase little motive to fact-check received information. The information that counters the worldview of users is well received when shared through affiliates who align with their way of thinking.

The study used focused group discussions with Indian youngsters to find out their social media habits and their understanding of the impacts of misinformation and harmful content in accordance with the Indian context. It found that 70% of internet users in India are below 35 years of age, which constitutes 65% of the country’s population.

The study further pointed out that mainstreaming the free flow of disinformation (intentional spread of misinformation in an organised manner) through social media platforms has ‘legitimised anti-minority hate, communities have become divided and polarised, sowed confusion in the minds of the people, made it difficult to establish a shared foundation of truth and led to political alienation’.

Despite growth in recognising the impact of disinformation and its associated political motivations, the ‘surrounding discourse in India has remained strikingly apolitical and episodic - focused on individual pieces of content and events’ instead of pointing at the issues in the structural design and larger political context.

The report found that the volume and velocity of information flow across social media platforms came at the cost of its quality. “Traditional news media lost their gatekeeping powers on news and information and were further weakened with the shift towards digital advertising, with an increasing share of advertising revenue going to major social media platforms.”

Discussing the spread of disinformation, the study said ‘virtually all misinformation could be linked to narratives propagated by organised political and business entities instead of existing in isolation’. There is a “dialectical relationship” between misinformation-fuelled narratives, political organisation representatives and allied information ecosystems that is used for “additional layers of misinformation.

“The discourse around misinformation and its resolution has become excessively mired in content-moderation and its minutiae. This framework suits social media platforms but is adjunct to the core issue of misinformation, which is distribution,” said Gupta.

The process of content moderation as a tool to tackle harmful content is exhaustive amid the volume of content posted on the platforms. This leads to the inability of social media platforms to ‘enforce their own rules in a consistent, accurate and fair manner’. The report mentioned the performance of social media giants in taking down and blocking content ‘on government requests while also making exceptions for powerful users who are at times linked to the government and its affiliates’.

The study further discussed various methods applied including fact-checking, reduction in distribution and labelling and informing and their challenges to tackling the spread of misinformation. Fact-checking and consequent content moderation decisions are seen as an intervention in the political process when the politicisation of an issue takes place and disinformation is spread as a basis of competing narratives.

“The challenge of disseminating authoritative information to successfully counter misinformation is often a bigger challenge than the fact-checking itself,” said the report.

Misinformation has always existed but its “turbocharged distribution” through social media has increased the invasiveness of propaganda as social media platforms rely on ‘amplification-based primarily on engagement signals.’

The report further recommended bringing a comprehensive transparency law for social media platforms, constituting a regulator under Parliamentary supervision, platforms to define their amplification approach.

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