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01 Sep

Many Developed Countries View Online Misinformation as ‘Major Threat’

Nearly three-quarters of people across 19 countries believe that the spread of false information online is a “major threat,” according to a survey released on Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

Researchers asked 24,525 people from 19 countries with advanced economies to rate the severity of threats from climate change, infectious diseases, online misinformation, cyberattacks from other countries and the condition of the global economy. Climate change was the highest-rated concern for most countries, with a median of 75 percent of respondents saying it is a major threat. Misinformation trailed closely behind, with a median of 70 percent deeming it a major threat.

The findings add to research that Pew released this year focusing on the United States. That survey showed misinformation virtually tied with cyberhacking as the top concern for Americans, with about seven in 10 people saying each is a major threat. In a sharp contrast with the other countries surveyed, the United States rated climate change the lowest threat among the available options.

After several bruising years of misinformation about elections and the coronavirus pandemic, 70 percent of Americans now believe that false information spread online is a major threat. Another 26 percent believe it is a minor threat, and just 2 percent say it is not a threat.

The findings place the United States among the countries most concerned about misinformation online. Germans were the most concerned, with 75 percent saying it is a major threat. Only 42 percent of Israelis ranked the issue that highly, the lowest among the countries surveyed.

Democrats and those with more education were more likely to rate online misinformation as a major threat. Republicans and those with less education were less likely to rank it as high.

Among Americans who voted for former President Donald J. Trump in 2020, 66 percent said online misinformation was a major threat, compared with 78 percent among voters who backed President Biden.

Researchers have previously warned that people with less education and those in more vulnerable positions (because of, for instance, low income or poor health) were more likely to believe in, and share, false information.

The survey found that young people tended to view misinformation as less worrisome than their older counterparts. This finding aligns with previous research showing that young people are less likely to share misinformation online and have more confidence in navigating falsehoods on social media.

Jacob Poushter, an associate director of global attitudes research for Pew, suggested that older people tended to rank technological threats more highly than threats like infectious diseases or an ailing economy.

“We know that older people are more concerned about cyberattacks and the spread of false information online,” Mr. Poushter said. “That could mean that it’s a lot about technology.”

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