Europeans Call for Swift Action to Combat Online Disinformation

Last Updated on: 22nd November 2023, 07:21 pm

More than half of the population in the European Union (EU) doubt the veracity of information on the internet, according to a new study from the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s “Upgrade Democracy” project. The study also found that almost nine out of every 10 Europeans believe that tech companies and government should be held responsible for countering the deliberate dissemination of false information.

Kai Unzicker, expert for democracy and cohesion at the Bertelsmann Stiftung, said: “Reliable information is the basis for making informed judgements and so also for democratic discourse. The European population feels great uncertainty regarding the digital content they can still trust and the content that has been deliberately manipulated. Anyone wishing to protect and strengthen democracy must not leave people to cope with disinformation on their own.”

The poll data was taken from “eupinions”, the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s opinion research tool, across the entire EU in March 2023. With a sample size of 13,270 respondents aged between 16 and 70, it is representative of the EU as a whole, as well as of the member states Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain.

The survey found that 39% of those surveyed are consciously aware of disinformation, while 44% have checked information gleaned from the internet. Fewer still, 22%, report false information or alert others to it. Age and education level appear to play a role, with the younger and more educated respondents more likely to counter disinformation.

The “Upgrade Democracy” study also showed that the more social media channels the respondents use regularly, the more they notice disinformation. Attitudes vary between countries, with people in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany more critical of social media’s effects on democracy, while those in Poland take a more positive view.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung recommends setting up and expanding systematic monitoring by independent actors from the academic world and civil society in order to raise awareness of the risks of disinformation among the wider population.

Kai Unzicker said: “Anyone wishing to protect and strengthen democracy must not leave people to cope with disinformation on their own.”

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