Most people say they can spot fake news but falter when tested: Survey

90% of Singaporeans identify at least one out of five fake headlines as real in online survey

When asked whether they were confident in their ability to tell the difference between legitimate news and fake news, 79 per cent said they were at least "somewhat confident". PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Four in five Singaporeans say that they can confidently spot fake news, but when put to the test, more than 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 yesterday by global independent market research agency Ipsos, which aims to understand the susceptibility of Singaporeans towards fake news.

Ipsos said the survey showed there was no correlation between people's confidence in their ability to detect fake news and their actual ability. 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 tell the difference between legitimate news and fake news, 79 per cent said they were at least "somewhat confident".

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

But when the participants 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, a satirical news site.

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

Meanwhile, almost half of the Singaporeans surveyed said they had been previously duped by a news report 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 had happened to them.

Also, more than a quarter of Singaporeans said that if they disagreed with a news story, it was likely fake.

Online sites, including social media platforms, have become key sources of information for many Singaporeans, according to Ipsos.

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

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 relied on traditional news platforms for accurate news, with 60 per cent saying they trusted these platforms "a fair amount", and about 20 per cent saying they had "a great deal" of trust.

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.

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 to evoke emotions, while 9 per cent appreciate if the content aligns with their beliefs.

Associate research director of Ipsos in Singapore Robert McPhedran said the research corroborated 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 added that it was "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 is really very hard to decide on one's own whether news is true, especially if it is something we want to believe."

Mr Ang said the survey results were a good reminder for Singaporeans 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 is something we should do".

• Additional reporting by Timothy Goh

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2018, with the headline Most people say they can spot fake news but falter when tested: Survey. Subscribe