Most Zimbabweans are familiar with social media and depend on it for news even when they are aware of its dangers, a new Afrobarometer study has shown.
It added that most people believe its overall impact on society is largely positive.
Results of the survey, which was conducted in April this year, indicate that among those who have heard about social media, the vast majority (91 percent) believe it helps keep people informed about current events, while almost half (49 percent) believe that it helps people have more impact on political processes.
“But seven in 10 (71 percent) also see social media as making people more likely to believe false information, and 44 percent say it makes people more intolerant of opposing views.
“Overall, six in 10 (61 percent) say the effects of social media on society are ‘somewhat positive’ or ‘very positive’. Two-thirds (65 percent) 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 percent) say they have heard about social media.
“Eighty-two (82) percent of men are more likely than women (77 percent) to be familiar with social media, as are urban residents (93 percent) compared to their rural counterparts (72 percent). A large generational gap manifests itself: awareness of social media is considerably less common among older citizens (58 percent of those aged 56 and above) than among the middle-aged (80 percent) and youth (86 percent).”
The data suggest a positive relationship between education and awareness of social media.
“While almost all respondents with post-secondary education (98 percent) have heard of social media, only 56 percent 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 percent) than in Manicaland province (66 percent).”
The use of the platforms as a regular news source is far more common in cities than in rural areas, and men are more likely to turn to social media for news than women.
Afrobarometer says 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