Facebook, politicians among top sources of fake news on virus - Report

In Summary

• A survey report has revealed that 46 per cent of journalists across the world said they had identified politicians as top source of information.

• Government agencies, their representatives and State-linked troll networks have played a key role as source for disinformation about the pandemic.


Politicians and government officials are among the main sources of disinformation on the coronavirus, a report has found.

Forty-six per cent of journalists across the world said they had identified politicians as a top source of this disinformation, the report by the International Center for Journalists revealed.

 The report further indicates that government agencies, their representatives and state-linked troll networks have played a key role as a source of disinformation.


But the most commonly cited source of this wrong information according to the report are “regular citizens” at 49 per cent.

The report dubbed 'Journalism and the Pandemic' was launched in April and the survey conducted between May 13 and June 30 in 122 countries where some 1,406 respondents were interviewed.

Out of these, 53 per cent were women while 46 per cent male, 29 per cent being news reporters and 14 per cent top news editors.

Some 50 per cent of the respondents were drawn from the print, while 23 per cent from digital outlets with 63 per cent being in full-time employment, 25 per cent freelancers, six per cent part time and six per cent unemployed.

According to the report, 25 per cent of the respondents said government agencies and their representatives had provided the wrong information about the disease.

Another 23 per cent said state-linked troll networks had given wrong information highlighting a serious lack of trust in political and governmental actors as the pandemic takes hold.

The report reveals that Facebook remains the most prolific disinformation vector with 66 per cent of the respondents saying they had encountered wrong information on the channel.


 Some 35 per cent of the respondents also cited the Facebook-owned closed-messaging app WhatsApp as a top spreader, Instagram being identified as a top enabler by 11 per cent of respondents and Facebook Messenger was cited by nine per cent.

Twitter was identified as a prolific disinformation spreader by 42 per cent  of respondents.

“Our survey results demonstrate the scale of the ‘disinfodemic’ confronting journalists, along with the key sources and propellants of false and misleading content associated with the pandemic,” read part of the report.

It further said, “Over 80 per cent of our respondents reported encountering COVID-19 related dis/misinformation at least once a week who expressed frustration with the failure of social media companies to deal appropriately with the dis/misinformation that they reported to them.”

Last month another survey report was released showing over 60 per cent of Kenyan youth do not trust Facebook or WhatsApp as a source of news.

The report by a South African-based organisation Ichikowitz Family Foundation indicated that some 53 per cent of  African youth don’t trust the two platforms.

This is despite the two being perceived as the world’s fastest-growing online marketplace.

 This, the report attributed to the negative effects of “fake news” breaking out across the continent.

According to the ICFJ report, covering Covid-19 has exposed journalists to significant threats and chilling restrictions, as attacks on press freedom escalated during the pandemic.

It said one in every 10 respondents said they’d been publicly abused by a politician or elected official in the course of their work during the period.

“A similar number (14 per cent) reported being subjected to direct censorship, while 20 per cent said their experience of online harassment and abuse was “much worse than usual.”

Three percent said they’d been physically attacked in the course of their work and a similar number had been detained, arrested or charged.

“Thirty-four percent of our respondents indicated that they had experienced attempts to restrict journalists’ access to information and chill critical reporting - ranging from being excluded from government press conferences to having their permits to report revoked, and being expelled from foreign countries,” the report said.

Some 48 per cent of the respondents said that their sources had expressed concern about reprisals for speaking to them (on or off record) during the  pandemic.

Most, the report reveals are concerned about losing their jobs, but fear of being fined, jailed, or physically attacked.

With regards to the digital security threats, the respondents said they had experienced government surveillance at 7 percent,  targeted digital security attacks like phishing, DDOS, malware at 4 per cent and  forced data handover  at 3 per cent.