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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Lebanese Citizens, Disinformation, and News Sharing Behavior

Friday , 06 January 2023
Design: Mahmoud Younis

Paying close attention to mis- and disinformation has become, in the last seven years, an important undertaking for journalists and governments alike. It is possible to manipulate election results, as well as the policies of entire countries, by influencing the mechanisms citizens use to obtain information. After uncovering the role that the social media algorithms play to lock users in closed circles, or information bubbles, and incite them to keep firm positions in order to achieve considerable financial profits, different parties have been seeking to address a situation that is conducive to the spread of disinformation. In fact, results show that those who believe in misleading media narratives, conspiracy theories, and fake news are more likely to support illiberal policies and autocratic leaders to the point of risking the pure and simple suppression of personal and public freedoms.


Should the focus then be on fact-checking initiatives? Or maybe on promoting media literacy in schools? Should stakeholders engage in negotiations with social media networks to modify their algorithms and adjust their economic model?

To answer these questions, it is important to properly understand the social, cultural, educational, economic, and political factors that make it easier for a person to fall in the trap of disinformation. Understanding this can help deal appropriately with the reality of each country, and even more, each segment of society. What is suitable for a community closely linked to modern means of communication in an open society could be unsuccessful in an environment with challenging economic conditions and repressive authorities.


In Lebanon, there has not been to date a study on citizens’ behavior vis-à-vis misleading news reports. Human rights defenders, freedom of expression advocates, and government agencies need to be properly aware of the influence of misleading information with regard to the views on freedom of opinion and expression, as well as local and international political and economic developments in general. Without an acute understanding of these dynamics, local and regional authoritarian forces, security services, and non-state armed actors will be more likely to fill the knowledge gap with more misleading media narratives.

With this report, the Samir Kassir Foundation aims to analyse how Lebanese people deal with mis- and disinformation according to an opinion poll that included 1,000 citizens. The research – conducted by Information International – is intended to understand the following:

- The extent to which a citizen distinguishes between accurate news reports and those filled with misleading information and conspiracy theories;

- The extent to which citizens are prone to sharing mis- and disinformation;

- If the citizens are aware of the truth or falsity of a news piece, would it affect their willingness to share it?


The 1,000 respondents were divided into two groups – A and B. Group A participants were shown ten fake news (most of which were not published in the mentioned media outlets) and five accurate stories. They were asked whether they would share such articles, what reasons would incite them to share these news items or prevent them from doing so, and which social media platforms they would use. The same stories were presented to group B participants, asking them whether they think such articles are fake or accurate. They were then asked about their willingness to share such stories, the reasons behind that, and the platforms they would use, just like group A participants. The only difference between groups A and B is that group B participants were first asked whether they believe the articles to be true or not.

The opinion poll took place from July 1 to 14, 2022. It included 1,000 respondents aged 18 to 64. They were distributed proportionally across the Lebanese districts according to the number of residents (Ministry of Public Health, 2020 Statistical Bulletin).

The sample was distributed equally between males and females (500 participants each). Also, the sample was equally divided between groups A and B. The same questions were asked to the respondents within the two groups, with an additional introductory question to the respondents in group B about the truth or falsity of the news. Thus, group B can be considered a guided group because the question makes the respondent aware of the “key word” of the study, while in group A, the respondents were not given any hint on whether the news is false or true.

General results:

 

  • Thinking about the truth or falsity of the news does not have a significant impact on the willingness of respondents to share it or not. The sharing rate only drops from 28.7% to 27.4% as a general average, after asking the respondents whether the news is accurate or fake.
  • Men have a relatively higher tendency, albeit slightly, to share news, at a rate of 29.7%, compared to 26.5% among women.
  • The age group most inclined to share news on social media is 35-44.
  • The number 1 reason for sharing news is the importance of the news for the citizen, while the number 1 reason for not sharing the news is the respondents’ belief that it is not accurate or their lack of interest in its content. There is also a general tendency for respondents not to share political news, regardless of their authenticity.
  • Only 13.5% of the respondents are willing to share international news, while the number rises to 21.7% for regional news, and 38.9% for local news.
  • Respondents were able to correctly identify whether the news is accurate or fake by 58.7%, and their answers were more accurate with regard to regional news (64.2%), followed by local news (56.2%) and finally international news (55.4%).

Research and coordination: Mirna Ghanem and Christelle El Hayek

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