Kiwis believe misinformation is getting worse, and they’re concerned about how it’s impacting society’s response to the likes of climate change or the Covid-19 pandemic, a new report has found.
That’s despite half of Kiwis reporting they believed in at least one statement associated with misinformation.
A survey by the Classification Office, which was released today, found 36 per cent of Kiwis were “very concerned” about the spread of misinformation in New Zealand, and another 46 per cent were “somewhat concerned”.
Fifty-seven per cent said they had seen false or misleading news or information in the past six months. Respondents said they most frequently saw misinformation about Covid-19, followed by US politics.
Many survey participants said the spread of misinformation contributed to anxiety and anger, and that it could sow division and mistrust among friends and family.
They believed misinformation was influencing people’s views, and because of that, was an “urgent and serious threat” that could lead to real-world harm. In particular, 75 per cent of respondents were worried about misinformation about Covid-19.
“It is not surprising, therefore, that we found that most New Zealanders think that something should be done about the problem of misinformation,” Chief Censor David Shanks wrote in the report.
Shanks said “meaningful action” was needed about misinformation, but noted “criminalising misinformation certainly won’t work”.
“But, there is much less of a consensus about who should be doing something, or what should be done,” he added.
About 70 per cent of respondents “tend to disagree that people should be able to say what they want on social media if it might be false or misleading”. Twenty-two per cent said they tended to believe there shouldn’t be limits on what people said.
Survey respondents also said they were less likely to trust information that solely comes from the internet and social media. They were also more likely to trust the Government officials (64 per cent) and experts (78 per cent) than the news media (60 per cent).
When asked which groups were “intentionally” spreading misinformation, 30 per cent said New Zealand news media, 19 per cent said the Government or its agencies, and 14 per cent said scientists and experts.
More than 2300 people over the age of 16 participated in the national survey for the report.
Despite worry about misinformation, Kiwis believe some of it
Despite Kiwis worrying about misinformation, about 50 per cent in the survey had some level of belief in at least one statement associated with misinformation.
Just under a third believe in two or more statements, and 19 per cent believe three or more statements.
“You can’t make assumptions about someone’s vulnerability to misinformation based on things such as their age, gender, ethnicity or other characteristics,” Shanks writes in the report.
“It is not unusual for New Zealanders to believe in at least a few ideas that are linked to misinformation, and that’s OK.
"It is quite possible that one or more of the subjects we associated with misinformation in this research might yet turn out to be not so misinformed after all with the emergence of new evidence.
“History tells us that truth is not fixed and immutable, and it is healthy for diverse and inclusive societies to accommodate a broad range of views and beliefs.”