When social media first rose to prominence, many in the technology industry thought it would be unequivocally good by democratizing the sharing of information and thereby furthering democratic society and the will of the people against those governments who would repress it. While it has done these things, it now is recognized social media has also created substantial societal damage by equally democratizing the sharing of misinformation, state-sponsored propaganda, and outlandish conspiracy theories. These recent societal effects of social media, however, in many ways parallel the earlier technological democratizations of information brought about by the printing press.
Given this context, RAND undertook to study the patterns of information sharing on both social media and traditional print media in two contemporaneous conflict zones both with postcolonialism historical roots. In our case study of China and Hong Kong, we found that social media was an enabler of pro-democracy movements, and that state-run media largely controlled the information space of traditional media. In our case study of India and Pakistan, we found that neither social nor traditional print media were controlled by the state, but that information content degraded over time into two fact-free and partisan narratives. The findings from two distinct contexts similarly suggest that more persistent attention to objective information about events, potentially through recycling of chronologically earlier news stories by media platforms, may help increase the volume of accurate information relative to misinformation that is shared and consumed by platform users.