Ahead of India’s general elections, the role of social platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook in the spread of misinformation has been under a spotlight. New research has now suggested that nearly half of voters have received some kind of fake news in the month leading up to the elections.
The survey of 628 voters was conducted in a joint study by Social Media Matters and the Institute for Governance, Policies and Politics (IGPP). It found that over 53% of respondents claimed to have received fake news over various social media platforms "due to the upcoming elections".
"It has been noted that Facebook and WhatsApp are the platforms which are being used excessively to misinform the users. An approximate 1 in two Indians have agreed to have received fake news in the last 30 days," the research claimed.
The report was released ahead of the general elections in India, which begin tomorrow 11 April and last until 19 May. They are expected to will attract some 900 million of voters.
Facebook and Whatsapp are the two most popular platforms for Indians to find news. A separate study by the Reuters Institute found roughly 52% of people got their news from Facebook and/or Whatsapp with more than 200 million Indians using the latter every day.
But with the surge in access to these apps has come a rise in the misinformation being spread on them.
Facebook and Google have both made attempts to educate people on how to verify the news, as well as remove misinformation from their sites.
Facebook has more than tripled the team working on safety and security to 30,000 people, introduced transparency requirements for political advertising and improved the tech processes that detect and remove fake accounts.
Whatsapp, meanwhile, launched a new tool called Checkpoint which allows users to suspicious content to local media start-up Proto for verification. Users are then told if the message is true, false, misleading or disputed. The messaging app claimed this, and other initiatives, have decreased forwarded messages by 25%.
Google has also introduced an India-specific Political Advertising Transparency Report and searchable Political Ads Library while Twitter formed an internal, cross-functional group to lead "electoral integrity work" in India that has tried to identify potential threats from malicious actors.
Despite these efforts, the Social Media Matters and IGPP survey claimed that 62% respondents expect the election to be "influenced" by fake news.