2017 was 'the year of fake news in Italy', regulator warns

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2017 was 'the year of fake news in Italy', regulator warns
File image showing logos of social networks. Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

Italy's communications regulator warned of a rise in fake news and disinformation in the country in a new report, less than two weeks before a general election.


2017 was "the year of the emergence of pathological phenomena such as the so-called 'fake news", regulator Agcom declared in the report published on Monday. 

Television remains the most-used form of media, with nine in ten Italians using it for information and news purposes, and 70 percent doing so every day. For almost half of those surveyed, the TV was their main way of following the news. Television also stood out as the only medium to have 'exclusive' users; eight percent of Italians used TV and only TV as their method for keeping up-to-date with the news.

However, social media is gaining ground as a way of staying informed. Seven in ten Italians used social networks for information purposes, 42 percent of them daily, and for more than a quarter of the population, this was their main source of news.

Meanwhile, newspapers were less popular, consulted by 60 percent of Italians at least once a month and by 17 percent on a daily basis.

Online, Italians were more likely to get their news from 'algorithmic sources' -- search engines and social networks, used for news by more than half of those surveyed -- than editorial sources such as digital news sites, which were used by 39 percent. Facebook was the favourite social media platform, used as a news source by almost one in three Italians, followed by Instagram, which was used for news by six percent of Italians, slightly more than Twitter.

However, social media and search engines were less trusted by consumers, with only 24 percent saying social networks were 'reliable' or 'very reliable' sources of information.

Reliance on the algorithms used by these mediums often benefits extreme viewpoints or exaggerated headlines, while social networks prioritize posts shared by friends or which receive a lot of engagement ('likes' and comments), leaving Italians "more exposed to the danger of disinformation, to confusion between real facts and fake news, and ideological bubbles or 'echo chambers'", Agcom warned.

In total, 14,000 Italians were surveyed for the Agcom report.

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