For many people, social media is an indispensable tool for communication, information consumption, and entertainment. However, its pervasiveness raises concerns about its potential negative impact, particularly the spread of disinformation and hate speech. The use of social media as a daily source of information has rapidly grown over the past 15 years, to the point of now surpassing print media, radio, and even television according to a new report.
Research from Ipsos and UNESCO, Global Survey on the Impact of Online Disinformation and Hate Speech, sheds light on the complex interplay between social media and information consumption. On average, 56% of internet users across 16 countries frequently rely on social media to stay updated on current events. This finding highlights social media’s growing influence in shaping public opinion and political discourse.
The study reveals that social media is the primary source of information for internet users across countries with high and medium/low levels of the Human Development Index. The Human Development Index (HDI) is a statistical tool used to measure a country’s overall achievement in its social and economic dimensions. The HDI was created to re-emphasize that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth.
The study breaks out HDI as follows:
- Countries with a very high HDI (>0.800): Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Romania, and the United States.
- Countries with a high HDI (0.700 to 0.799): Algeria, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Mexico, South Africa, and Ukraine.
- Countries with a medium or low HDI (<0.700): Bangladesh, El Salvador, Ghana, India, and Senegal.
Unfortunately, the study confirms the widespread perception of social media as a platform for disseminating disinformation. Over two-thirds of respondents in the survey believe that social media is the primary source of disinformation. That means it also surpasses traditional media outlets like television, radio, and print media. This concern is particularly prevalent among younger generations, with 74% of respondents under the age of 35 reporting encountering hate speech online. So, while people rely more heavily on social media for their information—over traditional media sources—they also believe social media is more likely to be a source of disinformation.
The study further indicates that social media platforms must adequately address the issue of disinformation. Only 50% of respondents expressed trust in news from social media, compared to 66% for television news, 63% for radio news, and 61% for print media news. These findings suggest that social media fails to meet users’ expectations regarding providing accurate and reliable information.
In response to these concerns, citizens are advocating for stricter regulation of social media platforms. Over 90% of respondents believe social media platforms should mandate trust and safety measures to combat disinformation. Further, 89% concur that governments and regulatory bodies should enforce these measures.
The research also underscores the importance of citizen engagement in combating online disinformation. Less than half of all respondents (48%) say they reported online content related to disinformation during an election campaign to social media platforms. Those reporting disinformation are more likely to be younger and have a more substantial interest in politics. This suggests a need to encourage more informed and active participation from older citizens in addressing the issue of disinformation.
Call to action
Ipsos and UNESCO’s findings underscore the need for a comprehensive approach to tackling the challenges posed by social media. The approach includes:
- regulation of social media platforms;
- media literacy education for citizens; and
- fact-checking and verifying information.
Social media is ubiquitous and brings unique challenges that require proactive measures. Social platforms need to do limit the spread of disinformation. Platforms can limit the number of times a post is shared and require users to verify the accuracy of a post before sharing it. They can also display warnings about the potential spread of disinformation. It’s time that platforms create a more responsible online space where people can access accurate news without exposure to misinformation and hate speech.