May 13, 2019

Fears of social media manipulation rock the developing world

People in emerging economies around the globe are becoming wary of using social media for political news due to the rampant amount of misinformation spreading on those platforms, according to a new Pew Research Center study.

Adapted from a Pew Research Center chart; Chart: Axios Visuals
Adapted from a Pew Research Center chart; Chart: Axios Visuals

Why it matters: Social media has largely democratized ideas and information, but people in developing countries now say that the technology also makes it easier for politicians to manipulate them — meaning it isn't as reliable as in-person communications.

Details: A median of 57% of respondents from the 11 countries surveyed say that social media increases people's ability to have a meaningful voice in politics. A median of 65% say those same technologies increase the risk of manipulation by domestic politicians.

  • In most countries surveyed, a majority of respondents say that in-person discussions are more valuable to keeping up with political news than social media.

The big picture: This discrepancy between the net benefits and net problems caused by social media gets at the heart of the debate of how countries around the world should be thinking about social media regulation.

  • While most people in developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia say they still rely on social media to introduce them to new ideas and to promote the causes of non-profit groups, most say they don't trust the news circulated on those platforms.

The bottom line: Social media, once celebrated as a great equalizer, is also seen as a risky way to communicate about politics in many places around the world, largely due to increased fears of political weaponization.

Go deeper: Viral lies spread before Indian and Indonesian elections

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