A recent joint study between the American University in Cairo (AUC) and the Egyptian Chinese University found that online fake news increased levels of consumer distrust among those surveyed. The COVID-19 pandemic brought about unprecedented consumption of media, particularly news and information, and as a result, high levels of what the paper termed “knowledge mismanagement” where fake news and misinformation were left to disseminate widely.
In turn, this also led to higher consumption of fake news and false information. This included false information about treatment methods and symptoms as well as frightening rumors and sometimes even inaccurate numbers regarding the infected people and deaths in different countries.
A highlighted concern was social media’s role in knowledge mismanagement due to the extent of misinformation and fake news that proliferated on it, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was especially damaging because of how misinformation became more viral than evidence-based medical research, causing “a negative impact on people’s psychological status […] incorrect medical [advice] and economic disruption.”
The study was conducted by Randa El Bedawy, associate professor of management at AUC School of Business, and Mayar Farrag Elsayed, assistant professor at the Egyptian Chinese University. It surveyed a sample of 300 people segregated by age. One group was 16 to 25-year-olds (or Generation Z) and the other was simply above 25.
A majority said they had lost trust in social media due to the prevalence of fake news that was allowed to spread very freely during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other effects were that it weakened trust in online news and made many question the authenticity of any online information about COVID-19, even from credible sources.
Generation Z were more conscious of the consequences of spreading COVID-19 misinformation and believed that governments and companies had an important role to play in the management of knowledge shared on social media.
“Generally, people used social media to spread news regardless of if they know that it may include fake news, which may in turn disaffect access to credible news,” El Bedawy said to Business Forward.
The researchers concluded that more efforts were required to increase awareness of fake news among the general public and the dangers of sharing them.
There can potentially be a fine line between government regulation and censorship of information. How can governments and companies strike the right balance to avoid the latter?
El Bedawy said transparency was the key. “[It] is crucial to build the right balance through the trust along with clear accountability,” she said.
“Transparency along the process of knowledge management is a focal point for its success. The right information should be provided at the right time through an effective channel to effectively reach in turn the target audience.”