NEW DELHI: A C-Voter nationwide survey indicates that the trust levels of Indians in social media is very low, particularly compared to mainstream media platforms like newspapers and TV channels.
One of the most dangerous phenomena during a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic is the viral spread of misinformation and outright lies through social media platforms. But as per the ongoing nationwide tracking poll conducted by C-Voter between April 23 and April 30, policymakers in India can sigh a breath of relief. As per the C-Voter survey, the proportion of Indians who display "a lot of trusts" in social media platforms is remarkably low, particularly when compared to mainstream media platforms like newspapers and TV channels.
At an aggregated national level, just about 12.5 percent of the respondents said that they had "a lot of trusts" in social media while 30.8 percent affirmed that they have "no trust at all" in social media. In sharp contrast, 34 percent of respondents said they had a lot of trust in newspapers while 6.8 percent said they had "no trust at all". ( It would be worth mentioning here that a strict lockdown has resulted in newspapers not reaching the doorsteps of a large number of households). Television witnessed a more polarised outcome with 42.3 percent saying they had a lot of trusts while as much as 16.1 percent ( compared to 6.8 percent for newspapers) saying they had no trust at all.
The lack of trust in social media cuts across geographies and segments like income, education, age, caste and ethnicity. Interestingly, the sections of Indians that are perceived to use social media most widely are the ones that exhibit the lowest levels of trust in social media. When it comes to young Indians below the age of 25 ( a cohort that rarely reads printed newspapers in large urban centers) 36.3 percent say they have no trust at all in social media, while just 11.7 percent aver they have a lot of trusts. In the same category, 7.3 percent of young Indians say they have no trust at all while 35.6 percent said they had a lot of trust in newspapers. Similarly, 14.7 percent of young Indians had no trust at all in TV news while 37.6 percent had a lot of trusts. For highly educated Indians, the results are even more startling with 41.7 percent saying they have no trust at all while a mere 8.6 percent said they had a lot of trusts. For the same category, 8.3 percent expressed no trust at all in newspapers while 40.7 percent expressed a lot of trusts. The corresponding figures for TV news were 11.2 percent and 28.9 percent respectively. In the case of high-income Indians, 33 percent say they have no trust at all while 7.8 percent say they have a lot of trusts.
The only category of Indians whose "no trust at all" percentage in social media which was below 20 percent was Indians above the age of 60. Otherwise, Indians across all categories displayed a lack of trust in social media. For instance, 35.2 percent of Indian Dalits expressed no trust at all in social while 41 percent of semi-urban Indians expressed the same view.
That should come as a sigh of relief for policymakers and law enforcement officials who find it difficult to contain rapidly spreading rumors and their consequences. Many steps have been taken to stop rumors from spreading; one example being the decision of WhatsApp to limit a seemingly viral post to just five forwards per person. But there have been grave consequences. Social media rumors led to the grisly lynching to the death of two monks and a driver in the Palghar district of Maharashtra in April 2020.
And there is a sobering reality check even behind the seemingly good news that trust levels in social media are very low. There are 400 to 500 million social media users in India based on various estimates. The C-Voter survey indicates that 12.5 percent of all Indians have a lot of trust in social media. That works out to between 50 to 60 million Indians, more than the population of most countries. (IANS)