When hearing the words “misinformation” and “disinformation,” most of us are inclined to brush them off, convinced that obvious propaganda only affects a handful of gullible readers. But how likely are you to be exposed to misinformation when scrolling through Telegram?
The study by independent researchers analyzes 317 million Telegram messages sent to 28,000 public Telegram channels between 2015 and 2019 and 200,000 Telegram posts between 2018 and 2019.
The research discovered that misleading information often gets more exposure than trusted news stories. It attracts views with sensational headlines, especially those appealing to basic emotions in a “clickbait” manner.
Additionally, such news are also more likely to be shared due to them appearing novel, scandalous, and often leaning towards a specific viewpoint (hyper-partisan.) By sharing such stories, users engage with a wide social network. Despite that, Telegram channels featuring misleading news did not attract more views than reputable channels, but its audience's behavior was different.
“We also found Telegram channels that had a high proportion of misleading sources were more active, with a greater reach of their posts, than those sharing links to professional news,” the report elaborates.
However, misinformation is not limited to user-to-user sharing and isolated interactions. Telegram’s interface prioritizes channels over algorithmic timelines to disseminate content, hence likely increasing the impact of a handful of individuals.
“The work of a few individuals involved in spreading misleading messages through Telegram channels can have a potentially higher impact compared to similar activities on other platforms with Facebook-style timelines. This can further motivate them to remain active contributors of misleading content,” the report explains.
These channels also have rather specific features. As such, they are less numerous than those spreading credible news and are more likely to “be divided into smaller communities along ideological and national lines.” These closed communities – similar to most users at large – search for information that adheres to their beliefs, which can lead them into channels distributing misleading content.
The study concludes that despite higher rates of content shares, the audience of US-focused professional news sources outgrows those who follow heavily biased channels. Overall, the reach of misinformation is not as dramatic as often argued.
“While misleading information can enjoy success, high-quality news seems to be more successful even in a largely unmoderated platform.”
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