A study of the University of Rio de Janeiro stresses that "a critical reading is needed" to face the circulation of false information in the digital media.
The Nutes Institute for Education in Science and Health at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, has recently published a report on the disinformation related to the expansion of digital media.
The report, titled Pathways of disinformation: Evangelicals, fake news and Whatsapp in Brazil, focuses on analysing the attitudes of evangelicals towards fake news and its impact on religious Whatsapp groups.
According to the data collected by the research, 49% of Brazilian evangelicals assure that they have received 'fake news' in some of their evangelical contact groups.
Furthermore, 29.7% of the evangelicals surveyed acknowledged that they have shared information even though they knew it was untrue.
“It requires resilience to take a stand against participating in the dissemination of lies”, point out the authors of the report.
Over 61% of those surveyed said that politics is “a recurring theme” in the fake news they have seen circulating in faith-related Whatsapp groups, while 33% admit to turn to “acquaintances” more than to media for information.
Researchers warn that “the fake news circulation system is part of the digital media and has a strong emotional and trust component", so that “a critical reading is needed”.
“The intense use of social media as ‘a new way to go to church’ is one of those practices associated with a sense of belonging to the community, that creates an image of leaders and brethren as reliable sources of news”, says Magali Cunha, one of the researchers of the report, in an article written for the Brazilian magazine Ultimato.
According to the survey results, just over 13% of respondents think of pastors and church leaders as the “most reliable source of information”.
The researchers of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro talk of “an intense use of religious Whatsapp groups, that is widespread among evangelicals", with up to 90.4% of evangelicals in Brazil participating in that kind of groups. Among Catholics, the percentage drops to 71%.
“Perhaps this largely explains the greater perception of the circulation of disinformation among people in this segment [evangelicals]", conclude the authors.
The Brazilian report is not unique. In October 2021, Relevant magazine revealed that troll groups in Europe were controlling many of the most-followed 'Christian' Facebook pages.
Furthermore, in January 2021, Lifeway Research published the results of a survey among US pastors which showed that half of the evangelical leaders surveyed claimed to have heard repeated conspiracy theories from members of their congregations.