More than half of youth in Africa do not regard Facebook as a trusted source of information, according to a survey commissioned by the South Africa-based Ichikowitz Family Foundation.
The survey, titled African Youth Survey 2020, saw more than 4,200 young people aged 18-24 interviewed in 14 African countries: Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The survey found that 53 percent of the respondents did not trust the social networking site as a reliable source of information. Youth surveyed in 12 out of the 14 countries said that they did not trust Facebook.
Of the countries whose youth said they did not trust Facebook, Zimbabwe had the highest proportion of respondents with 72 percent, followed by Congo-Brazzaville (64 percent) and Malawi (63 percent).
Kenya (64 percent) and Ghana (45 percent), however, bucked the trend with majority of their respondents saying that they regarded Facebook as a trustworthy source of information.
The survey also revealed that half of respondents did not trust WhatsApp, which, incidentally, is also owned by Facebook, as a reliable source of information.
Social media has emerged as the one of the fastest ways of receiving and disseminating information. However, a major drawback about this is a significant increase in the amount of unverified and deliberately false information being distributed on these platforms.
Some of the topics which have highlighted this concern are issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic, hate speech and elections.
“…nearly seven in ten (67%) of the men and women polled across 14 Sub-Saharan African nations suggest that fake news affects their ability to stay informed. Almost four in ten (37%) believe fake news affects them a “great deal,” the survey said.
Even with many respondents saying they distrusted both social networks as sources of information, more than half of them (54 percent) admitted they specifically relied on social media to read and share news. Moreover, a mere 21 percent of respondents said they considered news apps the most important ones in their smartphones while less than a third (26 percent) said they relied on traditional news sources.
The effects of fake news were found to be damaging at a personal level with 25 percent of respondents saying they either knew someone who had been the victim of online bullying or they had personally experienced it.
Ivor Ichikowitz, a philanthropist and chairman of the Ichikowitz Family Foundation, said the results from the survey were “alarming” and showed that the continent’s youth were “particularly vulnerable” to the growing problem of fake news.
“Africa’s youth are relying on social media as a top source of news, despite being aware that fake news is rampant and impacting their ability to stay informed. Facebook and WhatsApp are failing in their duty to protect its users and in Africa it’s clear that social media companies have a much greater responsibility to act against fake news and those spreading hatred and racial discourse,” Ichikowitz said.
Ichikowitz warned that such misinformation may lead to “instability” which could disrupt societies and place a strain on Africa’s democracies and leadership.
“As we tackle the COVID-19 pandemic we must also strengthen our fightback against the disinfodemic. While Facebook must act fast and aggressively against the perpetrators of hate, we all must learn to be thoughtful, patient, and question the source of news and verify its validity, before acting on it or sharing it.”
Facebook has taken certain measures to address the spread of false information on its platforms. One such step is the enlisting of partners to fact-check user-generated content and flag fake news. Another one is the removal of all fake claims or conspiracy theories, particularly on the coronavirus, pointed out by renowned global and local health authorities.
On WhatsApp, the number of times frequently forwarded messages can be forwarded again has been reduced to limit the spread of dangerous misinformation, especially around the coronavirus.