A social threat: Massive distribution of hoaxes by digital immigrants

Devie Rahmawati Lecturer in University of Indonesia’s Vocational Program

IO – Data shows that about 150 million of Indonesia’s citizens regularly access the internet, and 56% of these users are social media users. Nearly half of Indonesian social media users receive at least one hoax a day. Efforts to mitigate hoax attacks include the use of the 5R concept (Rights, Respect, Responsibility, Reasoning and Resilience) in digital citizenship and online safety (Romano, 2019). Our studies found that regional local law enforcement forces do not have sufficient knowledge to implement the 5R concept. This is why it is very hard to control the distribution of hoax information in three major cities (Depok, Palu, and Yogya) and two provinces (Riau, Aceh).

Our research was qualitative, using FGD method in the above five areas through the Saring sebelum Sharing (“Filter before Sharing”) program. The Groups comprise of 50 Sub-district and Village officials, while the interviews were held in May to October 2019.

The results show that most of these regional officials were born before the 1980’s. They are what is known as “digital immigrants”. The weakness of their digital knowledge and skill, their unfamiliarity with the concept and implementation of 5R, have rendered them helpless to withstand the attack of misinformation, disinformation, and intentionally wrong information freely going back and forth in social media channels, especially on Facebook and WhatsApp. However, there is still hope. Short-term media and digital literacy socialization and mentoring programs, and a long-term digital implementation curriculum, would help them filter dangerous hoaxes that can destroy social integrity and adhesiveness among different groups.

With extremely rapid improvements in technology that reach all levels of society in a very short time, we become aware of the concern that we are not being taught the skills that we need to keep up with the tsunami of information. There is an increasingly large gap between the skills individuals actually possessed and the real communication skills (digital literacy and digital competence) needed to manage a flow of information. All this started with the mismatch of skills between generations. In terms of digital consuming, Prensky notes the differences between two types of generation that he calls “digital immigrants” and “digital natives” (Chaves, et al. (2016); Susa, (2014); Salomon, (2014); Johnson, (2018)).

“Digital immigrants” are individuals who were not born in the internet or Google generation, signifying they were born before the 1980s (Susa, (2014).) They experienced technological evolution later in their lives, having to match and adapt to the use and capabilities of the new technology (Salomon, (2014)). In a global knowledge-based economy, there is huge demand to prepare digital competence in society. The government and educational institutions have a stake in determining how this preparation should be made. Therefore, a secure collaboration between educational institutions, the Government, the labor market, and NGOs is essential when we want to better digital competence for society as a whole. The lack of such a collaboration widens the gap and leads to a shortage of digital competence, which affects the nation’s growth and security. On the other hand, “digital natives” were born in the computer age and have been trained in the use of computers. Or, even if born from an older generation, they have little trouble learning to use digital technology. They have better control of information because they are used to receive large amounts of it in their daily work and study.

The low availability of individuals with sufficient digital competence means that most people do not have the competence to filter out truth from falsehoods, and this causes them to easily believe everything that they are told through digital media. It is easy to provoke them to accept prejudices and labelling, even escalating existing fears and suspicions to generate violent conflicts. These in turn lead to loss of money, time and peoples’ lives. For example, in the previous Regional Elections (2017) and Presidential Elections (2019), fake news, hate speech, and slander proliferated in Indonesia. Political events and campaigns have been generated by the candidates and voters, and they spread like wildfire. The people in grassroots use various media, but mostly social media, to influence political points of view. They tend to do this irresponsibly by spreading fake news and slanderous contents against certain political figures and their supporters without bothering to check the facts first. They tend to take anything sensational provided by (social) media at face value.

Most people link digital competence with generations (Ionita, et al. (2014). Given the distinct differences in these two groups, it is important for digital immigrants to possess digital competence. According to Rasskazova (2014), digital competence is an individual’s capability to adjust and adapt to the digital environment. This makes them confident. They are critical and they choose proportional content and channels to communicate effectively. This capability is on sustainable learning that produces learning competencies (knowledge, skills, attitude and values) (Rasskazova, et al. (2014). Digitally-competent people show their ability in their habits, personal relationships, and activities more responsibly.

This research uses a qualitative approach with 50 informants from five locations in Indonesia (cities Depok, Palu, and Yogya; provinces of Riau and Aceh). These informants were participants of the University of Indonesia’s Community Service Program (Pengmas DRPM UI), “Saring Sebelum Sharing”, which was held for eight months from May to October 2019. The purpose of this research was to reveal the perceptions and experiences of “digital immigrants” who access digital technologies. This study looked at their daily consumption of news and information from the internet, and at how they spread the information to others. “In qualitative research, the ultimate purpose is to understand the participants’ paradigm. The aim is to understand the social world from the perspectives of the actors in that social world, by reflecting it from the research methods that engaging with individual in their social environment” (Grigoryan, 2015; Pattee, 2012; Martin, 2011). Information is extracted in such a way that we can obtain a broader range of data by conducting in-depth interviews. Each informant was interviewed twice.

The 8 months’ qualitative research generated six findings related to the perspective and experiences of all informants in media consumption, especially hoax consumption through media. First, digital immigrants lack experience and/or expertise in using available technologies in the context of media literacy to combat the spread of fake news. Second, we found how digital immigrants connect with technology. Third, there is a generational constraint that influences digital immigrants to maintain different attitudes and behavior in consuming hoaxes from digital natives. Fourth, digital immigrants see them­selves as positive actors in consuming information news. They think that they are absolutely capable of combating hoaxes. Fifth, digital immigrants are selfish: they only hear information that they want to hear and notice only information that corresponds with their own beliefs. Sixth, digital immigrants show favoritism in selecting and adopting any information from groups. They tend to prioritize information from their own group and ignore information from groups that they do not belong to.

Lack of Experience
Most of the informants reveal that they have only just learned how to use digital technology, especially social media. They got the skills from their own family, such as spouses and children, and less frequently from other relatives. They use only Facebook and e-mail to access much information and news. Facebook is the format they use most frequently in their daily activities. Almost all their media consumption activities happen in Facebook. Our investigation reveals that they never use Google to access major or formal media outlets such as Kompas, Tempo, Detik, etc. to get news because they do not know how to do it. They just read news on Facebook and spread it. They also do not know how to utilize features in Facebook and they accept information passively, at face value.

Digital Immigrants’ Use of Technology
Digital immigrants do not exist in isolation while using technology: they have to interact with other members in a community. The community, both at an offline and online world, is a vital component of all interactions. This research found that digital immigrants interact with technology both actively and passively. They actively listen, comment, and spreading any kind of news and information, but they utilize social media features passively.

Generational Constraints
Generational differences make digital immigrants maintain a different attitude and behavior when consuming hoaxes from digital natives. They were not immersed in technology growing up and they only just learned how to use the technology in all aspects of their daily lives. Some researchers said that digital immigrants will always be digital immigrants, while others said that digital immigrants have the potential to become digital natives (Johnson, 2018). The availability of digital technology during growing years effected differences between digital immigrants and digital natives. These differences reflect in terms of issues that they consume. Most digital immigrants cannot distinguish between fact and fiction. They are more likely to spread any information or news, without making any effort to check their credibility. They also see all features that they use as social media. They cannot differentiate the use between Facebook and WhatsApp. They think that those two are credible media sources.

The Most Confident Generation
Digital immigrants have a different assessment of media effects on themselves and others. They tend to overestimate the impact of media on others, while underestimating the same effects on themselves. Therefore, they try to pass all messages that are perceived as harmful for them and others, ostensibly “to protect others from this harm,” but actually because they want to have control and power over others. By spreading hoaxes that they understood as news, they felt they were heroes. “The gap between perceived effects on self, versus perceived effects on others might increase, not as a reflection of the ego-enhancement need, but in relation with the consumption of that content. Therefore, if people consume anti-social content, they might be less likely to judge the effects on others as being more harmful than for themselves” (Ştefăniţă, 2018).

Digital immigrants’ selfishness makes them hear only the information that they want to hear and see any information that corresponds to their own beliefs. Individuals tend to be encouraged by their biases and want to maintain their points of view. They want to confirm their existing opinions and beliefs rather than getting new information. This does not mean that they are emotional; they simply tend to appeal findings that are desirable for themselves. When others tell them something different from their opinions, they are more likely to ignore it.

Digital immigrants practice favoritism in selecting and adopting any information from groups. They tend to prioritize their own group and ignore other groups that they do not belong to. They tend to set aside their own interests, because they want to optimize the benefit of their group. That’s why when they got information on Facebook or WhatsApp that was sent by a member of the group, or that is validated by other members of the group, they simply agree and support it, whatever the message may be. Informants said that they have tight solidity to support every message that represents their voice as a member of group. “This theory exposes that people within a group will attack an outside group in order to enhance the positive association they have for the group to which they belong” (Leonard, 2018).

Analysis & Suggestion
Data collected and analyzed from this study suggests that fake news is dominant among digital immigrant individuals. The overall tone and sentiments expressed by the informants consistently reveal that this group does not realize that they consume fake news intensively. Most of the news and information that they consume is extremely low quality. Furthermore, communication technology also allows informants to create and distribute fake content, or to create and distribute such content automatically without their consent.

To overcome this, people need to adapt the digital citizenship and online safety guidance consisting of Rights, Respect, Responsibility, Reasoning and Resilience (5R). Rights means freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, and protection from vilification; Respect means respecting yourself and others, listening across differences, and allowing all stakeholders a voice in the conversation; Responsibility means engaging in fair play, showing support for others, and creating positive online environments; Reasoning means having critical reasoning skills to know when to stop and question information, how to check facts, and how to communicate corrections in meaningful and appropriate ways; and Resilience means developing coping strategies and constructive responses to falsehoods, criticisms, confrontation and provocation (Romano, 2019).