People trust Facebook more than institutions, media and scientists: Fake news is spread out of fear

13. December 2021.

Disinformation are a growing problem and challenge for society and democracy. The techniques for spreading disinformation are advancing day by day, making it necessary to work on raising media quality and building a democratic political culture based on argumentative criticism, but also to regulate large digital platforms and responsible government, were the conclusions of today’s Zoom discussion “The Expansion of disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic”, organised by Gong.

"People are more inclined to trust the information they read on Facebook, than authorities such as institutions, scientists and the media. The citizens of Croatia do not trust the Government, the judiciary or the media. As many as 50% of people in Croatia believe that the virus originates from a government laboratory, while this figure is only 6% in Denmark, and 7% in Sweden. Citizens of Croatia are avoiding the news. Confidence in social networks is growing, and trust in health workers is declining", was the context explanation of Professor Marijana Grbeša-Zenzerović from the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb. She also emphasized the interesting fact that citizens trust the institutions of the European Union more than the national ones.

"In Croatia, 62% of citizens estimate that they encounter disinformation at least once a week. It is important to note the effect of the third - meaning that people possess knowledge of disinformation and are educated, making them believe that they will not fall for fake news and manipulative claims. We are encountering more and more clever, sophisticated, and better ways of “packing” disinformation that is easier to fall for, because it is harder to recognize them. Techniques and tools for presenting disinformation are advancing every day, so unfortunately when we expose one, another appears (deepfake, artificial intelligence, bots)", said Milica Vučković, a lecturer from the Faculty of Political Science in Zagreb.

The fact that people think they are immune to fake news and disinformation is a really big problem, which needs to be addressed and talked about. She added that as many as 85% of Croatian citizens agree that disinformation is a big problem, and a challenge for democracy.

"Science does not always have the answer to all the questions that disinformation spreaders and conspiracy theories use. Apart from the polluted media space and poor communication between politicians, there is also the fact that science is not easy to communicate in a clearly understandable way to everyone", Vučković warned.

Professor Mato Brautović from the University of Dubrovnik placed special emphasis on the role of mainstream media in the disinformation ecosystem.

"We do not have a tradition of corrections or follow-up stories in the mainstream media, when we correct information in a re-release. The reach of mainstream media is far greater than that of marginalized groups on social media. The basic postulates of journalism suggest that reporting should be balanced and fair, and this principle of balance often implies “two sides”. This can lead to citizens not wanting to be vaccinated, respect epidemiological measures or believe that there is a disease. This is because media reports, due to their balanced and fair approach, often give equal space to both pros and cons, although there is a general consensus in the scientific community that the vaccine helps fight disease. The more exposed citizens are to the traditional media that report in this way, the more they believe it. Fair and balanced reporting needs a different interpretation, it is not purely mathematical - 50:50, half 'anti-vaccines', half 'waxers'", said Professor Brautović.

Andrea Vranić, an associate professor at the Department of Psychology at the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, explained why people believe in disinformation: “We have a limited capacity for processing all that we receive. Based on one article, we will generalize and create a biased attitude, and our emotions will encourage us to share it. People process information like a computer, our cognitive architecture determines how we summarize information - how we determine what we automatically process because we no longer have the resources to deal with a topic, and our emotions could be the fuel and wind that drives our cognitive system."

"It is primarily fear, for ourselves and our loved ones, because of which we tend to pass on sensationalist information, for if we had analyzed it, we might have noticed that the information is not correct, but fear made us do it. One of the reasons why we do not try too hard to question certain information is that it is close to our worldviews and gives us a sense of security. We do not question them because these are the attitudes of our friends, and that is how we gain the support of our social circle", Vranić added.

Gong Executive Director Oriana Ivković Novokmet pointed out the importance of stronger regulation of large digital platforms, which would encourage users and promote both decentralization and democratization of the Internet. Ivković Novokmet listed the key requirements of the EDRi network - alternative recommendation systems on platforms and mandatory interoperability - as part of the solution to the current problem, all so that Facebook and other major platforms could no longer have enormous power over our information consumption, shifting the control back to citizens.

"There are hordes of portals that produce emotionally charged information to collect clicks on content most oftenly translated from foreign sources and localized. In our region, the spoken languages are understandable to everyone, and that means that the content produced in our country can be easily spread throughout the region", warned Ana Brakus, executive director of the Faktograf portal, adding:" Fact-checking must include empathy for those who read, but and towards those who spread misinformation out of fear and ignorance. This does not mean that there is empathy for those who consciously create misinformation, because they profit from the suffering of others.”

Gong is the user of operative support – structural support for European think-do-tanks in the field "Democratic and Citizen participation", as part of the Europe for Citizens program.
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