Poll finds 90% of Canadians have fallen for fake news

Ninety per cent of Canadians say they have fallen for fake news online, with many listing Facebook as the most common source of misleading reports, according to a new international public opinion poll.

Distrust of social media, Facebook, Twitter higher than concerns about cybercrime

(Shutterstock / LP2 Studio)

Ninety per cent of Canadians say they have fallen for fake news online, with many listing Facebook as the most common source of misleading reports, according to a new international public opinion poll.

The poll of 25,229 internet users, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for Canada's Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), found that only 10 per cent of Canadian respondents said they had never fallen for fake news, which the poll defined as wholly or partly false information.

Another 52 per cent said that while they have fallen for fake news, they do it seldom; 33 per cent said it happened "sometimes" while 5 per cent said it happened "frequently."

The poll found that Canadians reported falling for fake news at a rate slightly higher than the international rate of 86 per cent and the North American average of 87 per cent.

The highest rate reported in the poll came from Egypt, where 93 per cent of respondents admitted to having fallen for fake news. The lowest reported rate was in Pakistan, where only 72 per cent said they had ever fallen for fake news.

'Social media has a big image problem'

In fact, the poll found there are more Canadians now saying they distrust social media companies (89 per cent) than there are Canadians saying they distrust cybercriminals (85 per cent) — despite the fact that those who are charged with protecting Canadians online often cite cybercrime as their biggest concern.

"Currently, social media has a big image problem," said Fen Osler Hampson, CIGI's director of global security and politics. "I think they know that.

"What we're seeing is very high levels of distrust and it is going to empower governments to regulate them if they don't take stronger measures themselves to clean up their act."

Asked to identify sources of fake news, 68 per cent of Canadian respondents pointed at Facebook; 65 per cent blamed social media in general, 62 per cent blamed "the internet" and 49 per cited YouTube. Television was cited by 45 per cent of Canadian respondents, followed closely by the "mainstream media" at 43 per cent and print media at 35 per cent.

While the poll found that 36 per cent said they believe Twitter is a source of fake news, it also found that 47 per cent of respondents weren't on Twitter at all and 16 per cent said they hadn't seen fake news on Twitter.

The poll found that 91 per cent of Canadian respondents agreed that fake news is made worse by online distribution. The poll found that 81 per cent believe it negatively affects Canadian politics, while 80 per cent say fake news has a negative impact on the political conversation in Canada.

Fake news less likely to affect political discussions in Canada

However, Canadians were among the people least likely to agree with the claim that fake news had a negative effect on their political discussions with family and friends. The poll found only 58 per cent of Canadian respondents agreed with that statement, compared to 88 per cent in Nigeria and 68 per cent in the United States. Only France and Japan had lower rates than Canada.

"There is a greater belief that fake news negatively impacts political discussions with family and friends among citizens living in the developing economies of the world," Ipsos wrote.

Which country is most responsible for the disruption caused by fake news? The poll found that Canadians, along with Turks, were the most likely to point the finger at the United States. While 59 per cent of Canadians and Turks said the U.S. is most responsible, 57 per cent of Americans also blamed the U.S.

The poll found the British were the respondents most likely to blame Russia for fake news, while those in Hong Kong and Japan were more likely to blame China.

Canadian respondents were only slightly more likely to suspect right wing parties (75 per cent) of spreading fake news than left wing parties (72 per cent).

When it comes to fixing the problem, Canadian respondents were more likely to support social media companies taking action — such as closing accounts or removing fake news posts — rather than encouraging the government to step in or supporting efforts to publicly shame those who post fake news.

The poll also found that Canadians are more worried about their online privacy than they were a year ago, with 76 per cent saying they're concerned — a 48 per cent increase over last year's results.

The number of Canadians who blame social media companies for their distrust of the media also has risen to 89 per cent in 2019 from 81 per cent in 2018.

Respondents in 25 economies were interviewed for the Ipsos poll between Dec. 21, 2018 and Feb. 10, 2019. Results using the Ipsos internet panel system are considered accurate to within 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, while the margin of error for face-to-face interviews is 3.1 percentage points.

Elizabeth Thompson is part of a CBC team investigating online misinformation and attempts to disrupt the upcoming Canadian election. Have a tip? She can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.


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