The paper analyzes the issue of fake news in social media as an obstacle to receiving reliable information. A review of literature offers the investigation of current papers focused on the problem of fake news in media. Research questions are concerned with the social websites that are most favored by the UAE citizens and the level of trust expressed by users towards internet data. The selected study design is a survey.
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By obtaining participants’ responses to twenty topic-related questions, it is possible to analyze the most crucial aspects of the investigated theme. Limitations of the study, as well as recommendations for future research, are offered. The paper will be useful for researchers interested in social media use for data sharing as well as for scholars studying users’ perceptions of internet data.
Background of the Study
The advent of new technologies has brought about many new opportunities for people all over the world. The invention of the internet has had a particularly significant effect since it has enabled users to access the information easily, share their opinions and thoughts, and find out what is going on in their cities and countries, as well as abroad. One of the outstanding innovations of the latest decades is the possibility to read news as soon as something happens. There is no need to wait for a newspaper to arrive or the TV news issue to be broadcast ─ everything is published online with the speed of light, and users can find out what has happened, where, and with whom. Present research aims at analyzing one of the problems of such easy access to data: the issue of fake news on social media websites.
Statement of the Problem
Along with easier access to the information, users of social media are at risk of being deceived by fake news. The problem analyzed in this paper is how users decide whether the source they are consulting is credible. The country selected for the study is the UAE. The issue is rather serious since it causes inconveniences for citizens as well as creates problems at the international level (Al Jenaibi, 2011; Sengupta, 2018). Thus, it is crucial to investigate this question in order to find relevant approaches to eliminate the amount of fake data on the internet.
Purpose/Objectives of the Study
The purpose of the study is to analyze the issue of fake news in the UAE. The objectives of the study are:
- to find out what kinds of social media are preferred by the UAE citizens;
- to analyze the level of trust of people to internet sources.
Significance of the Study
The study is important since the negative effects of fake news are too serious to neglect them. The investigation will help to find out the reasons why users choose some media platforms over others. As a result, it will allow building reliable strategies for avoiding deceitful news items.
The study aims at answering the following research questions:
- What types of social media do the UAE citizens prefer?
- What do they base their choices on?
- What do the UAE residents consider to be the most important advantages of social media?
- What is the people’s level of trust to social media?
- What do the UAE citizens see as the major challenges of using social media for finding out the news?
Definition of Terms
- Social media ─ networks and applications offering users an opportunity to create and exchange content and communicate.
- News ─ a report on the events that happened recently.
- Fake news ─ the untruthful presentation of information or twisting some of the information.
- Clickbait ─ a type of content the major aim of which is to attract users’ attention and convince them to click on particular links.
Review of the Literature
In order to analyze the problem of fake news in social media and the impact such untruthful news items produce on the audience, a thorough review of qualitative research and current studies has been performed. The review of the literature covers the articles focused on the UAE as well as global issues concerning fake news. This chapter also offers an overview of the theoretical framework underlying the research purpose and a summary of the major points of the reviewed sources.
The Theoretical Framework Underlying the Research Purpose
The theoretical framework for research has been borrowed from Lee’s (2013) study. The framework suggests that the news consumption is driven by audience motivations. In accordance with this framework, the paper will research consumers’ behaviors in relation to social media news. An important constituent of the theoretical framework is the object (case) of research. In the current study, cases are people whose reception of social media news will be analyzed.
Another set of significant elements of the framework is presented by variables. The independent variable is the viewers’ perception of news. The dependent variable is the motivations of considering news issues as fake or true ones. Although variables are more typical for quantitative research, even qualitative studies, such as the present one, can have variables in their theoretical framework.
A Thorough Review of Relevant Empirical Studies and/or Qualitative Research
The review of literature will comprise two major parts. In the first one, scholarly articles concentrated on the impact of social media on the audience will be analyzed. In the second part, sources focused on the perception of news in the UAE will be reviewed. As a result of analyzing literature, it will be possible to understand research questions better and formulate the survey design that is the most suitable for the study.
Fake news in social media
Several of the reviewed studies investigate concepts of news consumption and the impact that social media have on the audiences of different ages. In her analysis of the connection between audience motivations and news consumption, Lee (2013) points out that there is a vast variety of choices for receiving news in the modern society. However, the scholar notes that the “uses and gratifications” perspective of the issue has not received proper attention (Lee, 2013, p. 300). Thus, the author selects four kinds of motivations upon which a variety of consumption patterns are identified.
The major question of Lee’s (2013) research is “who is using what type of news, and why?” (p. 300). The author singles out the following types of news consumption: information-motivated, entertainment-motivated, opinion-motivated, and social-motivated.
When analyzing the latter, Lee (2013) remarks that this type of news consumption is related to getting acquainted with the news based on social values. Users have the following social motivations to consume news: the necessity to keep up with the subject of discussion in the group of people, the desire to look well-informed in the eyes of others, the need to be aware of one’s friends’ interests, and the wish to be more sociable (Lee, 2013). The articles by O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson (2011) and Schifferes et al. (2014) are closely connected to the subject of investigation reflected in Lee’s (2013) study.
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Particularly, O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson (2011) analyze the influence of social media on different age groups of users. Scholars have included children, adolescents, and families in their research. O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson (2011) remark that using social media for finding out news is a rather common practice among people of all ages. However, young people constitute the most dedicated group of all users.
The authors note that apart from offering news items, social networking websites suggest opportunities for communication and entertainment. In this connection, O’Keeffe and Clarke-Pearson (2011) emphasize the importance of understanding social news and the need to explain the possibility of fake news to children. This source is particularly important for present research since it analyzes the negative outcomes of fake news on the users of social media networks. Another benefit of consulting this study is that it provides statistical data on the frequency of logging on to social websites.
Apart from the mentioned advantages of O’Keeffe’s and Clarke-Pearson’s (2011) article for the current paper, their study also analyzes the connection between online and offline behaviors of users, which is an interesting issue to consider when investigating this topic. Another research that is highly relevant is the study by Schifferes et al. (2014), in which the verification and identification of new data are analyzed. Unlike Lee’s (2013) and O’Keeffe’s and Clarke-Pearson’s (2011) articles, Schifferes et al. (2014) focus their research on journalists as users of social media websites rather than news consumers. This source is crucial since it offers another point of view on the news issues and provides the information relevant to analyzing the concept of fake news.
Articles by Chen, Conroy, and Rubin (2015), Lazer et al. (2018), and Marchi (2012) analyze fake news appearing in a variety of contexts. All of these sources draw attention to the negative aspects of fake news and mechanisms of their spread. In their study, Lazer et al. (2018) emphasize that the problem of spreading fake news over social media is global. Chen et al. (2015) also agree that this issue is a crucial one, and they even identify a particular form of tabloidization that they refer to as clickbaiting. Marchi (2012) investigates the young people’s preferences of news formats. All of these articles reveal the issue of fake news and focus on particular aspects of this concept.
Lazer et al. (2018) define fake news as the “fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent” (p. 1094). Thus, scholars make a division between the content and organization of news issues, emphasizing that even if the first element is equally represented in real and fake issues, the second is likely to be different. Another aspect that differs fake news from true issues, according to Lazer et al. (2018), is that the former do not adhere to the sufficient editorial norms and credibility requirement. In this respect, fake news is compared to other “information disorders,” such as disinformation and misinformation (Lazer et al., 2018, p. 1094).
Scholars remark that fake news originated in the context of politics, but soon entered the spheres of sock values, nutrition, and vaccination. Also, Lazer et al. (2018) admit that the issue of fake news has not received sufficient attention from scholars. Thus, it is recommended to dedicate research to finding out not only the number of viewers of such news but also the number of people influenced by it.
As well as Lazer et al. (2018), Marchi (2012) emphasizes the need to evaluate users’ preferences when watching media news issues. The author points out that young people do not tend to be interested in news is the traditional meaning of the word. However, Marchi (2012) also remarks that when defining news in a more “flexible” way, there are better prospects for engaging the youth (p. 248). The scholar adds that thinking of young people as incapable of taking politics seriously is wrong. According to Marchi (2012), these individuals are both interested in the political life and capable of discerning unreliable sources of information at times.
The investigation of fake news and its subtypes is also reflected in Chen et al.’s (2015) article. The authors analyze clickbaiting as an innovative form of faking news. Chen et al. (2015) suggest two methods of detecting clickbait. The first one is presented by content cues, and it includes the analysis of news at (a) lexical and semantic level and (b) syntactic and pragmatic level. The second method of recognizing clickbait incorporates non-text cues such as (a) image analysis and (b) user behavior analysis. Chen et al. (2015) admit that much further research is needed to address all of the problems initiated by fake news in the media.
Social media and fake news in the UAE
While analyzing the social media use in the UAE, Al Jenaibi (2011) remarks that social networks play an important role in citizens’ lives. Particularly, it is noted that social media communication has altered the approaches to sharing data in the UAE over the past decade. In particular, such platform as Facebook played a crucial role in the revolution of 2011 known as the Arab Spring (Al Jenaibi, 2011).
The study by Al Jenaibi (2011) investigates a variety of social media categories, such as image-sharing and opinion-sharing websites, social networks and video-sharing services, blogs and microblogs, and social bookmarking. The author pays particular attention to the analysis of the level of trust to social media. Al Jenaibi (2011) remarks that the level of trust to particular social media sources depends on privacy settings and users’ personal opinions.
Other articles selected for the review of literature are concerned with recent issues associated with fake news publications in the UAE. Two sources discuss the scandal between India and the UAE that appeared due to a fake news clip published by the UAE media (“Fake news about UAE,” 2018; Sengupta, 2018). In these publications, it is mentioned that the outcomes of fake news have a dramatic impact on relationships between the two countries.
Two more of the reviewed articles focus on the methods of overcoming the problem of fake news in the UAE. Ahmad (2018) discusses the formation of the Youth Media Council, the purpose of which will be distinguishing between fake and credible news. This organization is aimed at making the UAE’s media sector more reliable and responsible. Another method of dealing with fake news is launching anti-fake news banners of users’ Facebook accounts (“Anti-fake news banners,” 2018). With the help of these measures, the media council administration hopes to achieve the decrease in fake news instances and provide users with more reliable information.
The reviewed articles focus on the issue of fake news in media, in general, and such a practice in the UAE, in particular. All authors agree that better access to the internet has altered users’ opportunities to obtain information not only in a positive way. Along with the possibility to find out news faster, people face a challenge of being deceived and not knowing whether they are using a trustworthy source of data. What concerns the involvement of the UAE in this process, the country is reported to suffer from fake social media news not only at the national level but also at the international one. Scholars note that it is necessary to manage this problem to avoid conflicts within the country and abroad.
The methodology chosen for this research is of qualitative design. The participants were offered to answer twenty survey questions. For each question, there were several options of replies. Respondents were allowed to select more than one answer. The minimum requirements for the participation were being a UAE citizen, being 25-55 years old, and using the internet for social purposes.
Respondents were asked to answer the following questions:
- For how long have you been a user of social media websites?
- less than 6 months
- 6-12 months
- 1-3 years
- over 3 years
- What type of media do you use most frequently?
- live journal
- other (please, specify)
- What video-sharing sites do you use on a regular basis?
- other (please, specify)
- What social bookmarking websites do you use for managing online resources?
- other (please, specify)
- What image-sharing website do you consider to be the best?
- other (please, specify)
- Do you visit websites offering product reviews and, if so, do you find them beneficial and reliable?
- no, I do not visit them
- I visit them and find them beneficial and reliable
- I visit them but do not find them reliable and beneficial
- How did you find out about the websites you prefer to use?
- read about them
- heard from my friends or family
- saw the opinions of websites’ visitors
- visited them accidentally and liked them
- Why did you choose to use these websites?
- I liked their interface
- I trusted the people who recommended them
- I found them reliable based on the number of users
- I saw that some celebrities used them
- Do you think social media are helpful in business?
- In what ways, do you think, could social media be used for professional purposes?
- for promoting services
- for collecting customers’ feedback
- for analyzing customers’ needs
- other (please, specify)
- Which of social media types, in your opinion, is the most reliable?
- social networks
- video-sharing sites
- image-sharing platforms
- product reviews
- Do you trust the websites you use regularly?
- in most cases, yes
- in most cases, no
- What sectors of the UAE economy, do you think, employ social media with the aim of reaching out to the citizens?
- other (please, specify)
- Do you think that the political life of the country is appropriately reflected in online news issues and social media?
- Where, do you think, should news issues reflecting the government’s activity be published?
- on governmental websites only.
- on governmental websites and social media websites.
- To what extent do you agree that social media have altered people’s communication habits?
- strongly agree.
- strongly disagree.
- What type(s) of media do you use most frequently to express your opinions and share ideas?
- social networks.
- To what extent do you agree that social media have helped people develop their communication skills?
- strongly agree.
- strongly disagree.
- How confident are you about the sufficiency of your knowledge concerning the use of social media websites?
- very confident.
- somehow confident.
- not confident at all.
- Do you think that social media websites present news in the most objective and reliable way?
- mostly yes.
- mostly no.
The procedures involved in the study included pre-survey, survey, and post-survey activities. Pre-survey procedures included inviting the participants. During this stage, the researcher sent emails to different organizations asking their employees to cooperate. Emails were sent to 20 companies, 13 of which replied positively. Each organization returned from 20 to 30 completed surveys. Together, there were 338 replies collected. Some of them did not contain answers to all questions, so they were deemed invalid. 302 surveys were left for further analysis. Post-survey procedures included the analysis of results that is reflected in the next chapter.
Data Analysis and Results
Because the participants were allowed to choose more than one answer to some questions, the results do not always equal 100%. This chapter presents the analysis of data and results obtained with the help of surveys. The following outcomes have been identified:
- the majority of respondents (67%) have been using social media websites for over 3 years, 27% have been using these websites for 6-12 months, 6% have started using social media fairly recently;
- the media used most frequently is Facebook (43%), which is followed by Twitter (39%); other types are not favored by users as much as these ones;
- YouTube (67%) and Viddler (21%) are the most popular video-sharing sites;
- Mouthshut.com (45%) is the most popular social bookmarking website, followed by Meopinion.com (41%);
- Flickr and DeviantArt are the most popular image-sharing websites (33% and 29%, respectively);
- as many as 44% of respondents do not visit websites offering product reviews; out of those who visit them, only 35% find these websites reliable and helpful;
- the majority of respondents (53%) found out about their favorite websites from friends; 32% read about the sites that later became their favorites;
- respondents chose those websites because they trusted the people recommending them (40%), found them reliable based on the number of users (31%), saw that celebrities were using them (16%), or liked the interface (13%);
- 63% of respondents consider social media to be helpful in business; 37% say they do not think so;
- many respondents think that social media could be used with professional aims: 55% said that media were useful for promoting services; 60% said social websites could be employed to collect customers’ feedback; 48% said they would use media to analyze customers’ needs;
- when asked about the reliability of media types, respondents said they found social networks the least reliable (41%); blogs, video- and image-sharing platforms, and product reviews websites were considered less reliable (60%, 85%, 90%, respectively);
- 56% of respondents said they trusted their favorite websites, 32% said they did not trust them, some participants hesitated and said they trusted websites in most cases (5%) or did not trust them in most cases (7%);
- participants reported that the spheres of the UAE economy most frequently employing social media were healthcare (43%) and education (37%), among the least reflected were environment (6%) and other spheres specified by respondents (such as tourism and government) (14%);
- 74% of respondents say they do not consider political events to be sufficiently reflected in social media, 26% considered the coverage appropriate;
- 95% of participants say they find it necessary to publish news issues associated with the government or governmental websites only, 5% say they would not mind if such publications were placed on social media websites;
- 43% of participants say they strongly agree that social media have changed users’ communication habits, 30% agree, 22% disagree, and 5% strongly disagree;
- the most popular media types for expressing opinions and sharing ideas are social websites (77%), other popular kinds of media are blogging (22%), photo-sharing (15%), and video-sharing (14%);
- 45% of respondents strongly agree that social media have evolved people’s communication skills; 30% agree, 20% disagree, and 5% strongly disagree;
- only 49% of participants are very confident about the sufficiency of their knowledge concerning the use of social media websites; 29% feel confident, 18% feel somehow confident, and 4% do not feel confident at all;
- 24% of respondents think that social media reflect news in the most objective way, 35% think these platforms mostly present news objectively, 19% think that the reflection is mostly unreliable, and 22% think the news issues are not reflected objectively.
Findings or Interpretation of Results
The findings obtained with the help of surveys allow making results interpretation that will give insight into users’ beliefs and expectations from social media as news platforms. The questions that interested the researcher most of all were concerned with the level of trust experienced by respondents and their favorite types of social media. Findings indicate that the number of participants who have a high level of trust to their favorite websites is 56%.
Such results indicate that although many people use social websites to find out news, they do not always find such data reliable. Moreover, as many as 95% or interviewed individuals are convinced that social media platforms are not appropriate places to publish serious news issues, such as political and governmental events. What concerns users’ preferences, the majority uses Facebook for communication, YouTube for watching videos, Mouthshut.com for social bookmarking, and Flickr for searching images.
Less than half of the respondents use websites with product reviews. Participants’ trust to websites is associated with the source of finding out about them and the number of friends favoring these sites. Respondents admit that the more friends use the website, the more trust they have to it. Additionally, users’ opinions about social media in business have been investigated. Participants have reported high interest in using social media for business purposes. Many of the interviewed individuals consider that websites have a great potential to develop businesses through finding out customers’ opinions and receiving their feedback.
Along with giving an important insight into understanding research questions, the study has some crucial limitations. First of all, the sample is not big enough to offer the most reliable results. Secondly, no cross-examination of results has been performed. For instance, it would be good to find out how many of respondents favoring Facebook consider social media reliable or how many users finding social websites important for business consider internet resources trustworthy. Thirdly, no demographic data were collected, which excluded the possibility of comparing the views of people belonging to different age groups, genders, or social statuses.
Recommendations for Future Research
In future research endeavors, it is recommended to take into consideration the limitations of the present study. Also, further research may be enhanced through the inclusion of interventions aimed at eliminating fake news in social media. Some attempts have already been made, but they are only initial, and this issue needs to be investigated at a better level. Finally, future research should cover more detailed questions and engage more participants to provide better reliability of results.
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Anti-fake news banners to appear on UAE Facebook accounts. (2018). The National. Web.
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Fake news about UAE condemned by Kerala chief minister. (2018). Gulf News. Web.
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Sengupta, S. (2018). Indian media scrambles after being called out on fake news clip on UAE. Gulf News. Web.