New data sug­gests African au­di­ences see sig­nif­i­cant mis­in­for­ma­tion than Amer­i­cans

Sunday Trust - - MEDIA -

More than a quar­ter of Kenyans and Nige­ri­ans sur­veyed said they had shared sto­ries that they knew were made up.

Con­cerns about “fake news” have dom­i­nated dis­cus­sions about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the me­dia and pol­i­tics in the de­vel­oped world in re­cent years.

The ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of at­ten­tion paid in schol­ar­ship and in pub­lic de­bates to ques­tions around truth, ve­rac­ity, and de­cep­tion can be con­nected to the role of “fake news” in the 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s use of the term to dis­miss his crit­ics. The term “fake news” it­self is con­tro­ver­sial be­cause it’s poorly de­fined.

The panic cre­ated by the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion in gen­eral has led to in­tro­spec­tion by jour­nal­ists and a re­asser­tion of pro­fes­sional val­ues and stan­dards. The rise of false in­for­ma­tion has com­plex cul­tural and so­cial causes. Until now, though, the phe­nom­e­non has been stud­ied mostly as it hap­pens in the U.S. and Europe, with rel­a­tively lit­tle at­ten­tion to the sit­u­a­tion in African coun­tries.

That’s de­spite the fact that dis­in­for­ma­tion on the con­ti­nent has of­ten taken the form of ex­treme speech in­cit­ing vi­o­lence or has spread racist, misog­y­nous, xeno­pho­bic mes­sages, of­ten through mo­bile plat­forms such as WhatApp.

To fill the gap in in­for­ma­tion about “fake news” in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, we con­ducted an on­line sur­vey in Kenya, Nige­ria, and South Africa ear­lier this year. Our study had three goals: to mea­sure the preva­lence of dis­in­for­ma­tion, to learn who peo­ple be­lieve is re­spon­si­ble for stop­ping fake news, and to un­der­stand the re­la­tion­ship be­tween dis­in­for­ma­tion and me­dia trust. Our sur­vey, in which 755 peo­ple took part, reused ques­tions from an­other study on the topic con­ducted in 2016 by the U.S.-based Pew Re­search Cen­ter, which al­lows us to com­pare our re­sults with those in the U.S.

Our find­ings sug­gest that African au­di­ences have low lev­els of trust in the me­dia, ex­pe­ri­ence a high de­gree of ex­po­sure to mis­in­for­ma­tion, and con­trib­ute - of­ten know­ingly - to its spread. Find­ings There are five take­aways from our study.

First, me­dia con­sumers in Kenya, Nige­ria and South Africa per­ceive that they are ex­posed to “fake news” about pol­i­tics on a fairly reg­u­lar ba­sis. Al­most half of Kenyan re­spon­dents said they of­ten en­counter news sto­ries about pol­i­tics that they think are com­pletely made up. More alarm­ingly, only a small frac­tion (rang­ing from 1 to 3 per­cent) say they have never come across fab­ri­cated news. In the U.S., that fig­ure is much higher (12 per­cent).

Sec­ond, sur­veyed Africans said they shared “fake news” with a much higher fre­quency than Amer­i­cans do: 38 per­cent of Kenyans, 28 per­cent of Nige­ri­ans, and 35 per­cent of South Africans ac­knowl­edged hav­ing shared sto­ries which turned out to be made up. In the U.S. only 16 per­cent did so.

Third, the pub­lic is seen as bear­ing the largest re­spon­si­bil­ity in stop­ping the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion. More than two-thirds of re­spon­dents in all three coun­tries said members of the pub­lic have a lot or a great deal of re­spon­si­bil­ity. Next came so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies and, in last place, the gov­ern­ment.

Fourth, we found that Nige­ria has the low­est level of over­all trust in the me­dia of the three coun­tries. On a scale from 0 to 100, av­er­age val­ues were con­sis­tently be­low 50. De­clin­ing lev­els of me­dia trust are not ex­clu­sive to sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, but are a trend across the globe.

By type of news or­gan­i­sa­tion, Nige­rian and Kenyan au­di­ences said they trust in­ter­na­tional me­dia more than any other. In South Africa, lo­cal me­dia is the most trusted.

Fifth, we found that those re­spon­dents who be­lieve they are ex­posed to “fake news” more reg­u­larly have lower lev­els of trust in the me­dia gen­er­ally. Be­cause mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion ap­pear to be con­tribut­ing to the ero­sion of me­dia trust, it’s im­por­tant that strate­gies to ad­dress the fake news phe­nom­e­non look be­yond me­dia lit­er­acy.

Re­build­ing trust me­dia

Ed­u­cat­ing au­di­ences about the dan­gers of fake news is not enough. Me­dia lit­er­acy should form part of a larger, multi-pronged ap­proach to restor­ing trust in the me­dia. Our find­ings sug­gest that me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions will have to work hard at re­build­ing re­la­tion­ships with au­di­ences.

Our data comes with some lim­i­ta­tions. While we tried to sam­ple dif­fer­ent seg­ments of so­ci­ety, be­cause re­sponses were col­lected on­line, it’s more likely to rep­re­sent the point of view of the ur­ban mid­dle classes, rather than those liv­ing in ru­ral ar­eas, with lower in­come lev­els, or both. The re­sults of this study, the first to ex­plore mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion in mul­ti­ple African coun­tries, pro­vide some ini­tial ev­i­dence that can be used in de­sign­ing strate­gies to limit the spread of fake news, and to mit­i­gate the de­clin­ing trust in the me­dia.

In sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa, main­stream news out­lets have long strug­gled to gain their in­de­pen­dence and free­dom. State con­trol over me­dia, whether via own­er­ship or sup­pres­sion, re­mains strong. The high lev­els of per­ceived ex­po­sure to mis­in­for­ma­tion and dis­in­for­ma­tion, if left un­ad­dressed, could fur­ther un­der­mine the pre­car­i­ous foothold of in­de­pen­dent me­dia on the con­ti­nent. (Nie­manLab) in

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