Tag Archives: misinformation

Most young Australians can’t identify fake news online

The Conversation

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Media education opportunities should be more frequently available in schools to ensure young Australians meaningfully engage with news media. Shutterstock

Tanya Notley, Western Sydney University and Michael Dezuanni, Queensland University of Technology

In September 2017, we conducted Australia’s first nationally representative survey focused on young Australians’ news engagement practices.

Our survey of 1,000 young Australians aged eight to 16 indicated that while roughly one third felt they could distinguish fake news from real news, one third felt they could not make this distinction. The other third were uncertain about their ability.

In part, we were motivated by the gravity of recent academic and public claims about the impact of the spread of “fake news” via social media – although we are well aware of arguments about the credibility and accuracy of the term “fake news”. In our study, we classified fake news as news that is deliberately misleading.

What we found

Age plays a role here. As children get older, they feel more confident about telling fake news from real news. 42% of Australian teens aged 13-16 reported being able to tell fake news from real news, compared with 27% of children aged 8-12.


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We found young Australians are not inclined to verify the accuracy of news they encounter online. Only 10% said they often tried to work out whether a story presented on the internet is true. A significant number indicated they sometimes tried to verify the truthfulness of news (36%). More than half indicated they either hardly ever tried (30%) or never tried to do this (24%).


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We also asked young Australians how much attention they pay to thinking about the origin of news stories, particularly those they access online. More than half indicated they paid at least some attention or a lot of attention to the source of news stories (54%). However, 32% said they paid very little attention and 14% said they paid no attention at all.

To us, the circulation of fake news on social media is troubling, given what we know about how social media platforms create news filter bubbles that reinforce existing worldviews and interests.

Even more concerning, though, is the way many social media platforms allow people with vested interests to push content into feeds after paying to target people based on their age, location or gender, as well as their status changes, search histories and the content they have liked or shared.

There is often no transparency about why people are seeing particular content on their social media feeds or who is financing this content. Furthermore, much online content is made by algorithms and “bots” (automated accounts, rather than real people) that respond to trends in posts and searches in order to deliver more personalised and targeted content and advertising.

Where are young Australians getting their news?

Given these concerns, we used our survey to ask just how much news young Australians get through social media.

With all the hype around young people’s mobile and internet use, it might come as a surprise that social media did not emerge as their top news source and nor is it their most preferred.

80% of young Australians said they had consumed news from at least one source in the day before the survey was conducted. Their most frequent source was family members (42%), followed by television (39%), teachers (23%), friends (22%), social media (22%), and radio (17%). Print newspapers trailed a distant last (7%).

However, this is not to diminish the significance of young people’s use of social media to consume news. Two-thirds of teens said they often or sometimes accessed news on social media (66%) and more than one third of children stated they did so (33%).

For teens, Facebook was by far the most popular social media site for getting news with over half (51%) using it for this purpose. For children, YouTube was by far the social media platform used most for news. 37% got news from this site.


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What should we be doing?

There is no doubt that legal and regulatory changes are needed to address the issue of fake news online.

However, education must also play a critical role. Media education opportunities should be more frequently available in schools to ensure young Australians meaningfully engage with news media.

Media Arts in the Australian Curriculum is one of the world’s only official systematic media literacy policies for children in preschool to year 10, but it is being under-used. Our survey suggests only one in five young Australians received lessons in the past year to help them critically analyse news, and only one third had made their own news stories at school.

The curriculum also needs to ensure young people understand the politics, biases and commercial imperatives embedded in technologies, platforms and digital media.

The ConversationOur survey shows that young people are consuming lots of news online. However, many are not critiquing this news or they don’t know how to. The implications of this are not necessarily self-evident or immediate, but they may be very wide reaching by influencing young people’s capacity to participate in society as well-informed citizens.

Tanya Notley, Senior Lecturer in Digital Media, Western Sydney University and Michael Dezuanni, Associate professor, Creative Industries Faculty, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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The curious power of hate propaganda in open societies

The Conversation

Cherian George, Hong Kong Baptist University

This article is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative with the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.


When George Orwell contemplated trends toward tyranny in 1984, he saw a world where truths were violently obliterated to leave Big Brother’s lies unchallenged. This negation of knowledge and erasure of human experience, he mused, was:

… more terrifying than mere torture or death.

But something curious has happened in the post-totalitarian world, which even Orwell’s penetrating gaze did not foresee.

Today, demagogues don’t actually need to silence or censor their opponents. It turns out their followers are quite happy to succumb to wilful blindness, believing what they want to believe even as contradictory evidence stares them in the face.

One result of this is open societies remain surprisingly susceptible to misinformation that instigates intimidation, discrimination and violence against vulnerable groups. Untruths doled out in hate campaigns find ready buyers even in a free marketplace of ideas.

The unholy appeal of outright lies has been on stunning display in Donald Trump’s rise as the Republican candidate for the US presidency. Independent fact-checking organisation PolitiFact has found 71% of his statements to be mostly false, false or in the “pants-on-fire” category.

This phenomenon is not new. More than a decade has passed since satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word “truthiness”, referring to stuff that some people lap up because it feels right – even though it definitely isn’t.

Right-wing conservatives on every continent have long mastered the art of weaving simple, comforting ideas into a security blanket against a complex and diverse world they perceive as threatening to their values and way of life.

Who needs to think when just feeling is enough?

This tendency toward self-delusion might be largely harmless but for the fact the untruths being circulated often vilify other communities. And the invective is not confined to idle gossip, but converted into blueprints for action: remove them; ban their places of worship; censor their viewpoints; restrict their practices; kill them.

Often this emerges as straightforward hate speech or misinformation that incites hostility, discrimination or violence against a group. Or it is expressed as righteous indignation, accusing the targeted community of behaving in a manner that causes outrage.

These twin tactics – the giving and taking of offence – meld into a potent political strategy that I call “hate spin”. Its practitioners manipulate the visceral, tribal feelings of their audience in order to mobilise supporters and defeat opponents in their quest for power.

Mobilising intolerance

Hate spin is distressingly common – and effective – despite its ultimate reliance on half-truths and even pants-on-fire lies.

In the US, a small network of misinformation experts have pushed extreme claims about Muslims from the loony fringe into the edges of mainstream discourse: American mosques are terrorist training centres; the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the US government; Barack Obama is a closet Muslim.

Although under 2% of the American population is Muslim and there is no lobby urging US courts to recognise Islamic law, several states have enacted statutes or constitutional amendments to protect against sharia. Such has been the power of Islamophobia agents to whip up paranoia about Muslims.

In India, Hindu nationalists use hate spin to consolidate the country’s religious majority into a dependable vote bank that transcends the internal divides of caste, class and language.

This group has tried to make fundamental a faith that is inherently eclectic and fluid. They have chosen to take violent offence at the killing of cows and the eating of beef, as if Hinduism ever treated such prohibitions as strictly as the Muslim injunction against pork.

The Hindu right claims Muslims – through their polygamy and a “love jihad” conspiracy to convert Hindu girls – will turn Hindus, who currently make up 80% of the population, into a minority in India. This fantastical projection has somehow seeped into the political discourse of a civilisation renowned for its mathematical prowess.

Just another piece of misinformation in a democratic marketplace of ideas.
Andy Herbon/flickr

Demographic delusions seem particularly popular among hate-spin agents.

Indonesia has hardline Islamist groups that claim to have uncovered a conspiracy to Christianise the country. This would be quite an accomplishment, considering Indonesia has some 200 million Muslims – around as many as the five largest Arab states combined. They account for almost nine in ten of the country’s population.

Constitutionally, Indonesia upholds belief in God, but not exclusively Islam. Protestantism and Catholicism have explicit status alongside Islam among Indonesia’s religions.

The central government and Supreme Court have upheld the right of Christians to build churches. Yet local hardline groups have blocked church construction in some localities for years, exploiting religious frictions to extract protection money from Christian congregations.

What’s striking about these cases of hate spin is that they are occurring in established democracies with strong traditions of press freedom and intellectual debate.

The US, India and Indonesia are nowhere near the Big Brother totalitarian regime Orwell described. Each has its own vibrant, noisy marketplace of ideas. It’s just that the market does not seem to value truth as consistently as it should.

Faced with the real harm that can be inflicted by hate propaganda, it’s no wonder that many reasonable people wonder if there should be more restrictions on speech.

Prohibitions on incitement are sometimes warranted, in line with international human rights law. But censorship is not the answer in most cases. Hate spin is more prevalent and dangerous in countries with less freedom of expression, not least because such countries usually have less regard for the equal rights of vulnerable minorities.

Instead, we should begin by recognising that a free marketplace of ideas, while necessary, is not sufficient. Truth’s victory over hate propaganda is neither automatic nor preordained. It requires a commitment to equal rights and norms of tolerance that is at least as determined as the uncompromising hate of demagogues and fascists.

The ConversationCherian George, Associate Professor of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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