4 in 5 Singaporeans confident in spotting fake news but 90 per cent wrong when put to the test: Survey

Almost half of the Singaporeans surveyed said that they had been previously duped by a news story they first believed to be real. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Four in five Singaporeans say that they can confidently spot fake news, but when put to the test, about 90 per cent mistakenly identified at least one out of five fake headlines as being real.

These were among the findings of an online survey released on Thursday (Sept 27) by global independent market research agency Ipsos, which aims to understand the susceptibility of Singaporeans towards fake news.

A total of 750 Singapore citizens and permanent residents, aged 15 to 65, participated in the survey between July 30 and Aug 2.

When asked whether they were confident in their ability to identify legitimate news from alternative facts, 79 per cent said that they were at least "somewhat confident".

Younger Singaporeans and university graduates were more confident about this, the survey found.

But when they were given 10 news headlines from digital channels and asked to indicate which ones were fake, only 43 per cent correctly identified two or fewer fake headlines. Of the 10, half were fake.

In fact, 91 per cent had incorrectly chosen at least one of the five fake headlines as being real.

In response to media queries, an Ipsos spokesman said the fake headlines were sourced from newnation.sg, a satirical news site.

Examples of the fake headlines include "Orchard Road smoking ban to improve suburban malls' attractiveness" and "Increasing food costs will deter eating, help Singaporeans fight obesity".

Ipsos said that the survey showed there was no correlation between people's confidence in their ability to detect fake news and their actual ability.

Meanwhile, almost half of the Singaporeans surveyed said they had been previously duped by a news story they first believed to be real.

Younger Singaporeans between 15 and 24 years old were particularly susceptible, with more than half of them (55 per cent) admitting that this has happened to them.

Also, more than a quarter of Singaporeans say that if they disagree with a news story, it is likely fake.

On the other hand, about two in five Singaporeans - mostly men - say they trust news that they agree with.

Online sites, including social media platforms, have become the primary sources of information for many Singaporeans, instead of traditional media, according to Ipsos.

About 60 per cent access news via Facebook, 53 per cent on other social media platforms and 52 per cent read news websites.

In addition, 44 per cent of them say that they have consumed news shared via messaging platform WhatsApp in the month preceding the survey.

Only 38 per cent get their news from broadcast/cable television, 30 per cent tune in to news radio and 14 per cent listen to talk radio.

Despite the fact that Singaporeans enjoy getting their news from digital media, participants still rely on traditional news platforms for accurate news, with 60 per cent saying they trust these platforms "a fair amount" and about 20 per cent saying that they have "a great deal" of trust.

The survey found that men are significantly more likely to trust digital channels, including online-only news publications and social media (34 per cent); Twitter (30 per cent); and WhatsApp (29 per cent).

On the other hand, older Singaporeans - those aged 45 to 65 - trust traditional sources more, including print and news radio.

While they may be reliant on social media as a news source, Singaporeans are discerning about who is sharing the information online.

Traditional Singapore news media companies, as well as government ministries and statutory boards are the most trusted sources on social media, the survey found.

Meanwhile, sponsored posts have the least credibility in the eyes of Singaporeans.

While the majority of Singaporeans value veracity of the news above all else (77 per cent), 14 per cent place greater weight on the ability of the news story to evoke certain emotions in them, while a smaller group (9 per cent) appreciate if the content aligns with their personal opinions.

Women (81 per cent), and those aged between 55 and 65 (86 per cent), are significantly more likely to value the veracity of news above other factors.

Associate research director of Ipsos in Singapore Robert McPhedran said the research corroborates the Government's strong concern about fake news.

"Despite their high levels of confidence, all Singaporeans - irrespective of educational attainment and media consumption habits - find it difficult to discern between real and fake news," he said.

He added that "this is indeed a serious social issue", with the proliferation of digital media here and the dire consequences of fake news seen globally.

Mr Benjamin Ang, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the survey's results reflected a trend that was not unique to Singapore.

"By definition, news is something we haven't heard before - so if we don't have a reason or opportunity to search for verification, it's really very hard to decide on one's own whether news is true, especially if it's something we want to believe."

He said that the problem is usually exacerbated when news appears online, as it is easier to make something false look authentic on the Web. He added that people typically read online news when they are on the go, and are usually in a rush and not in the mood to verify whether what they read is true.

Mr Ang said the survey results are a good reminder for Singaporeans not to be overconfident, and to treat what they read with healthy scepticism.

He added that taking time to verify news that resonates with what people believe "goes against our nature, but if we want to avoid spreading misinformation, it's something we should do".

Additional reporting by Timothy Goh

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