A new Afrobarometer survey in Zimbabwe shows that a majority of citizens are familiar with social media, and a significant proportion of the population depends on news from social media even if they are aware of its dangers.
Among those who have heard of social media, a majority believe that its overall impact on society is largely positive. Even so, many Zimbabweans voice concerns about the negative effects of social media, including the dissemination of false information and the promotion of intolerance for opposing views.
Results of the survey conducted in April this year indicate that among those who have heard about social media, the vast majority (91%) say social media helps keep people informed about current events, half (49%) believe that social media helps people have more impact on political processes.
“But seven in 10 (71%) also see social media as making people more likely to believe false information, and 44% say it makes people more intolerant of opposing views. Overall, six in 10 (61%) say the effects of social media on society are ‘somewhat positive’ or ‘very positive’. Two-thirds (65%) of Zimbabweans say social media and the Internet help make people more informed and active citizens, and hence unrestricted access to these platforms must be protected.”
Afrobarometer says eight out of 10 Zimbabweans (80%) say they have heard about social media.
“Men (82%) are more likely than women (77%) to be familiar with social media, as are urban residents (93%) compared to their rural counterparts (72%). A large generational gap manifests itself: Awareness of social media is considerably less common among older citizens (58% of those aged 56 and above) than among the middleaged (80%) and youth (86%).”
The data suggest a positive relationship between education and awareness of social media. “While almost all respondents with post-secondary education (98%) have heard of social media, only 56% of those with primary schooling or no formal schooling have. A provincial breakdown shows that awareness of social media is far more common among Harare residents (92%) than in Manicaland province (66%).”
The use of social media as a regular news source is far more common in cities (67%) than in rural areas (26%), and men are more likely to turn to social media for news than women (49% vs. 34%).”
“Again, young (49%) and middle-aged citizens (40%) are considerably more likely to regularly obtain news from social media than their elders (19%). And only about one in 12 people with less than secondary education (8%) regularly use social media for news, compared to 69% of those with post-secondary qualifications.”
Asked about the effects of social media, Zimbabweans see both benefits and drawbacks.
An overwhelming majority (91%) of those who have heard about social media “agree” or “strongly agree” that social media keeps people informed about current events.
About half (49%) also think that social media helps people have more impact on political processes. On the downside, a large majority (71%) see social media as making people more likely to believe false information, while 44% say it makes people less tolerant toward others who hold different views.
Afrobarometer says social media is having a huge impact on the daily lives of people throughout the world. It says in Zimbabwe, social media platforms such as WhatsApp swiftly disseminate news and have consequently gained popularity in both urban and rural areas.
In some instances, however, users have posted sensational information about topical issues that turn out to be “fake news,” thus misleading the public.
Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life.