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54 % of Indians look to social media for facts: Oxford University Press Research

Oxford University Press (OUP) unveils a new research-led campaign, The Matter of Fact looking at the level of understanding of how truths are identified and sources validated. Despite concerns around misinformation and false claims, social media users around the world continue to believe that the information they read and share on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook is factually correct, with levels of trust highest in emerging economies. 

In India, as many as 87% of people who share information from social media are confident in its truthfulness, slightly above the global average of three quarters.

The findings, based on a global study by Oxford University Press (OUP), the world’s largest university press, show that when looking for factual information, 37% turn to social media, rising to 43% of Mexicans and South Africans and 54% of Indians. Britons were less likely to look for facts using social media, with only 16% describing it as a preferred source, compared to nearly three in ten (29%) Americans. 

Overall, most of us rely heavily on Google and other search engines for information, with two-thirds (67%) worldwide and 62% in the UK finding facts this way. Three-quarters of people are confident information they share on social media is accurate.

The study, The Matter of Fact, takes a broad look at how people across the world seek out information and judge its accuracy, drawing on a pool of evidence bolstered by survey data collected from 5,000 people across the UK, the US, South Africa, India, and Mexico.

It finds that social media has become central to shaping people’s understanding. More than half (52%) said that when it came to distinguishing fact from fiction, sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram play an important role. At the same time, reliance on books and more traditional means of gathering accurate information has declined. For example, less than a third cited non-fiction books and encyclopedias as sources when seeking facts.

There were geographical differences in the level of trust people put in social media, with almost 80% of Indian and 60% of Mexican respondents seeing these networks as an important tool for separating fact from fiction, but only 27% taking this view in the UK and 42% in the US. 

Other key findings from the report included:

· Globally, 80% of us prefer to consult multiple sources to determine whether something is accurate.

· Half of us still think politicians and government play a significant role in helping us to separate fact from fiction (47%)

· Almost two thirds (65%) agree that facts should be open to interpretation, however this varies across markets with 83% in India and around half for the UK (51%) and US (47%).

The pandemic does appear to have had an impact on people’s perceptions of truth, with around three in four people agreeing that they are now more cautious about the accuracy of the information they encounter – a figure that climbs to over 80% in India, Mexico, and South Africa. 

Speaking about the research, Nigel Portwood, CEO of Oxford University Press, said: “Differentiating between fact and fiction is harder than ever, with the unprecedented events of the last two years bringing the debate around misinformation and false claims into sharp focus. With an ever-increasing number of sources to turn to for information, from books to academic texts to digital channels, and so many answers available at the touch of a button, it’s no surprise that our research presents a global picture of confusion.

Sumanta Datta, MD of Oxford University Press, India, shared his thoughts, “With the growing penetration of mobile phones and easy access to the internet, large parts of India, both urban and rural, are connected through social media. With over 87% of Indians placing their trust and confidence in information circulating on social media, there is a need to understand the potential impact of factual inaccuracies and misinformation."

The full report, The Matter of Fact, can be accessed here.

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