By Edson C. Tandoc Jr.
Though the majority of social media users in Singapore are confident they can distinguish fake news from real ones, nearly 2 out of every 10 users have experienced being misinformed by fake news.
This is based on a survey conducted in July involving 1,045 social media users in Singapore. The survey is part of a research project on social media literacy at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
The survey asked respondents to rate how often they have “believed information from social media that turned out to be false.”
Some 13% said this happened to them “often,” while about 6% reported experiencing this “very often.” Some 45% said this happened to them “sometimes.” About 27.4% reported experiencing this “rarely,” while about 9.1% said “never.”
However, these responses only refer to instances when the users were able to figure out that what they believed in was actually fake news.
It does not account for instances when the users never figured out they were misinformed—which means these results only show a fraction of the actual problem.
While most examples of fake news we have examined so far in Singapore refer to consumer affairs, such as the viral post about plastic rice supposedly being sold at a supermarket chain, fake news has become a source of concern for many Singaporeans.
A simple search for the term “fake news” on Google Trends, which provides a measure of how often a search term is searched relative to other search terms, shows that Singapore ranks second among countries in the world when it comes to the degree of interest in fake news, just after the United States and right above the Philippines.
However, most social media users in Singapore are confident they can tell which one is fake and which one is real: The survey also found that 58.5% agreed or strongly agreed with this statement: “I can tell whether an information on social media is true or false.”
Only 7.9% percent disagreed with the statement, with the rest indicating a neutral stance.
Singapore has among the highest social media penetration rates around the world, enabled by a reliable digital infrastructure network.
WhatsApp is the most used social media application, with 92.9% of the respondents saying they use it often or very often, followed by YouTube (80.3%) and Facebook (79.2%).
It is possible that as news consumption increasingly takes place on social media—platforms that are designed primarily to maintain or create social ties—information becomes a social currency to facilitate the maintenance or building of social relationships.
Thus, informing others might become secondary to entertaining or humouring others, so that some social media users share information without verifying.
Part of the problem, too, is the inaction among many users who are able to spot fake news.
In an earlier survey involving 2,500 respondents, also conducted by NTU, a group of researchers found that about 73% would just ignore fake news they see on social media. Only 12.2% would report the post to get it removed.
Edson C. Tandoc Jr. is an assistant professor at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at NTU Singapore. His research focuses on online news production and consumption. He has started a project, funded by the Ministry of Education, to look at social media literacy in Singapore. Part of the project looks at how social media users navigate through the information they come across on social media.