OTTAWA -- A new global survey suggests distrust of the internet is being fuelled by growing skepticism of social-media services like Facebook and Twitter.
One in four people who took part in the survey said they didn't trust the internet, a view increasingly being driven by lack of confidence in social media, governments and search engines.
The opinion research involved more than 25,000 internet users in 25 countries in North America, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.
It was conducted by pollster Ipsos on behalf of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont., in partnership with the Internet Society and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
The survey report says growing distrust in the internet prompted people to disclose less information in cyberspace, use the internet more selectively and buy fewer things online.
The results come amid widespread concern about fake news online and the duplicitous use of social media to influence democratic processes, including elections.
Three in four respondents were at least somewhat concerned about their online privacy. Overall, more than half of those surveyed were more concerned about their privacy compared to a year ago.
"They still trust the internet, in the majority, but I think there's some storm clouds on the horizon," said Eric Jardine, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech and a fellow at CIGI.
The survey was conducted between Dec. 21, 2018, and Feb. 10 of this year. The margin of error ranges from plus or minus 3.1 to 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20, depending on whether the survey was done online or in person.
Among those who distrust the internet, 81 per cent cited cybercriminals as a reason. Seventy-five per cent pointed to social-media platforms, 66 per cent mentioned foreign governments, 66 per cent cited government generally and 65 per cent blamed search engines such as Google for the erosion of trust.
In Canada, social media was the leading source of internet distrust, cited by 89 per cent of people.
Almost nine in 10 surveyed said they had been fooled by fake news at least once. Facebook was the most commonly noted source of phoney news, followed by Twitter.
Ten per cent of Twitter users and nine per cent of Facebook users told the researchers they had closed their accounts in the last year as a direct result of fake news.
A majority of internet users expressed support for actions that governments and companies could take to fight fake news, from social media and video-sharing platforms taking down bogus posts, videos and accounts to adoption of automated content removal and even government censorship of content, the researchers say.
The federal government has repeatedly voiced concerns about the behaviour of social-media services, particularly their role in hosting dangerous content related to violent extremism and child exploitation.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale discussed the problem Monday in Washington with U.S. acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan.
"Both we and the Americans fully agree we need to develop the technologies to take down the offensive material and, as much as possible, prevent it from going up in the first place," Goodale said in an interview after the meeting.
Social-media companies use sophisticated algorithms to manipulate and use the personal information of people on their platforms, he noted.
"Those algorithms need to be more transparent than they are today," Goodale said. "These are the business models by which the companies make their profits, but they're also the tools by which they entice people down some very dark and dangerous pathways."