MORE THAN HALF OF PEOPLE STILL BELIEVE THAT THE BLUE WHALE SUICIDE GAME EXISTS, AN EXTENSIVE ONLINE TEST OF THE CZECH PUBLIC REVEALS

  • In the test where people were set a task of telling fact from fiction, residents of Brno, Pardubice and Hradec Králové, for example, scored better than those of Prague
  • Education will not fully protect against fake news, experience also helps, says doc. Petr Janeček
  • According to Josef Šlerka, the people most prone to hoaxes and fake news are residents of medium-sized cities with a population of 10,000-100,000

Prague, 5 March 2020 – People still believe in hoaxes and misinformation that have sometimes been circulating in the public space for dozens of years, a test that T-Mobile ran on Facebook in the first three weeks of February reveals. More than 20,000 people took part in the test, of whom 8,601 provided their data for an anonymous analysis.  

The test entitled “True or false? Fact or fiction” (“Pravda, nebo lež? Realita, nebo fikce?”) involved twelve stories in the form of short newspaper articles or extracts from e-mails. The participants were set a task of recognising what was the truth and what was a lie. The stories included those from the pre-internet times as well as contemporary ones, containing true but hardly believable information or misinformation and hoaxes spread by e-mails, as well as proven fabrications and untruths that had made it in the news media.

It is probably no surprise that productive-age university graduates from large cities are most immune to hoaxes and misinformation. It was equally to be expected that the most vulnerable group is children and senior citizens with a lower-level educational attainment, who made mistakes in the test most often. Surprisingly though, the difference is not very staggering. While a university graduate aged 35-44 years answered 9.4 questions correctly, children up to 15 years only 7.6, while senior citizens older than 65 years detected on average 8.7 hoaxes and those older than 75 year just 8.4 hoaxes. The average of the entire sample was 8.94, which is less than 9 correct answers out of 12.

“What is disturbing, though, is the closer look at what a large number of people can still believe in,” says Martina Kemrová, Corporate Communications Manager at T-Mobile. For instance, ten percent of respondents still believe in the hoax that a non-existent granddaughter of former presidential candidate Jiří Drahoš made a speech at a demonstration; the bait was more often swallowed by people with basic education and vocational school graduates (3% of university graduates vs. 13% of respondents with basic education and vocational certificate holders). As regards the question about a hoax of the dead student Jan Šmíd, so often quoted during the recent celebrations of the Velvet Revolution anniversary, the generations who experienced the revolution personally (45-74 years) proved to be more successful. Nine contemporaries out of ten knew that it was a nonsense against seven out of ten people younger than 34 years. “I was surprised that 54 percent of participants in the test still believed in the existence of the Blue Whale game, which is supposed to drive young people to committing suicide by completing a series of tasks,” adds Martina Kemrová. Yet people at the parental age detected the fake news about the Blue Whale much more often that those at who it is supposedly targeted: 61% of children up to the age of 15 believed in the existence of the game against only 50% in the case of parents (35-44 years).

“Having greater life experience clearly plays a big role in that we will not succumb to false information. And this is good news. Each generation, educational or geographic, group of female or male Czech citizens then has its own particular 'cure' against fake news,” says doc. Petr Janeček of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, commenting on the results of the test. Petr Janeček is an ethnologist who has long focused on the creation and life of urban legends and fake news and is the figure behind the successful series of literary collections of urban legends entitled “Black Ambulance”) “Černá sanitka”). Within the project, he cooperated on the selection and drafting of the stories.

Education is no guarantee

According to Petr Janeček, education alone is not enough. He adds in relation to the test: “Some people are more familiar with how electronic social networks work, some people have greater life experience, others have greater information and media literacy. Some people have higher level of educational attainment, some have 'common sense' and scepticism. And the luckiest ones have a bit of everything.”

We often come across the assumption that those more prone to believe in false information are elderly people without experience with internet and computers and with lower education, or people living in the country. However, the survey has revealed a much varied, and in many aspects also more positive, picture. “The respondents who made mistakes most often were residents of medium-sized cities, often district capitals (with a population of 10,000-100,000). Education combined with age and place of residence played a very strong role in the success rate,” says Petr Janeček summarising the results.

Contrary to stereotypical assumptions, the best results were not achieved by Prague residents but by residents of other larger cities with a population of more than 100,000. For example, residents of Brno, Pardubice and Hradec Králové fared better than the residents of the Czech capital. The “most successful” regions were Central Bohemia, South Moravia and Pilsen regions.

“The fact that people living in medium-sized cities in particular are more susceptible to hoaxes and fake news is also confirmed by our surveys,” says Josef Šlerka of the Foundation for Independent Journalism and head of New Media Studies at the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, commenting the findings. “It has equally been shown that the percentage of people who believe in similar nonsense is the lowest among university graduates, but not so much as we would expect,” adds Šlerka.

“None of us is fully immune to misinformation. By our test, we wanted to show people that just as they believed in nonsense in the past, the same is happening today. Only the technologies change and fake news now spreads faster and is often much more sophisticated,” says Martina Kemrová of T-Mobile, explaining the purpose of the test. “However, the basic rules how to verify whether the news is true remain the same: use the common sense, do not get carried away by the prevailing opinion in your “bubble”, use several sources to verify the information.”

Twenty thousand respondents, 8.5 thousand of them provided their anonymised data

Between 4 and 24 February, a total of 20,145 respondents took part in the online text, of whom 8,601 provided their data for anonymous processing. Several (both basic and secondary) schools also shown interest in the activity. “Pupils in first and second grades are more responsible in these tests, more playful, and think very carefully over the different situations,” says PaedDr. Pavla Nedomová, headmistress of the Secondary Vocational School in Prague 5, explaining the process of completion of the test.

The test was not only fun: after each response, the participants were given an explanation and a link to further information. More than four thousand respondents viewed or downloaded the ten tips how to recognise the signs of manipulation.

T-Mobile has systematically supported information and media literacy since 2019. Within the We Help (“Pomáháme”) grant programme, T-Mobile distributed CZK 2,133,500 among 13 projects throughout the Czech Republic last year. The recipients of grants included educational institutions, libraries and groups of active people as well as established organisations such as Demagog.cz, Manipulatori.cz and Transparency International. More information can be found at www.t-mobile.cz/pomahame.


 
About the Company

T-Mobile Czech Republic, a member of the international telecommunications group Deutsche Telekom, is with its more than 6.2 million customers the number-one operator in the Czech market. T-Mobile is an integrated operator: in addition to converged telecommunications services, it offers TV and comprehensive ICT solutions. It provides outstanding services in the high-speed network, which was proved repeatedly by benchmark testing performed by umlaut (former P3) with Best-in-Test seal.

T-Mobile Czech Republic places emphasis on taking a responsible approach to the environment and society. It adheres to fair business practices, helps beneficial applications and services to see the light of day, supports non-profit organizations, small businesses and individuals, and lends a helping hand whenever crisis situations arise. The company’s employees serve as volunteers in many places across the entire Czech Republic.

More information about the company is available at www.t-mobile.cz, www.t-press.cz (the portal for journalists), www.t-mobile.cz/pomahame (information on the company’s CSR activities) and www.rozjezdy.cz (T-Mobile Takeoffs of the Year – a program to support small businesses).

Contact details of the press unit: press@t-press.cz.