2 in 3 Flemings do not know how Facebook is using their personal data

Over the past eight months, researchers from iMinds and the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) have investigated how much Flemish citizens know about media policy in Flanders. The study indicates that they actually know desperately little about this. Only 1 in 3 respondents know that there is a restriction on broadcasting time for commercials. In terms of legislation knowledge about new media, there is much work to be done as well: 2 in 3 Flemings do not know how Facebook uses their personal data. Remarkably, young people score significantly lower here than older people. According to the researchers, the study shows we must keep encouraging the development of a critical view of our media and of how media companies work.

Over the past 8 months, researchers of research center SMIT – connected to iMinds and VUB – investigated what Flemish citizens know of media policy in Flanders. To do so, they queried 1,102 respondents, representing the Flemish population in age, gender, education level and geographic distribution.

The study shows a rather sad state of the knowledge on media policy in Flanders. Only 1 in 3 Flemings are aware of the restrictions on broadcasting time for commercials. 8 in 10 citizens have no idea of the rules on product placement. Barely 8% can make an accurate estimate of how much they contribute to the financing of the public broadcasting service, and only 1 in 4 know what the key tasks of the VRT are.

Their knowledge of the rules on new media is no better: 2 in 3 Flemings do not know how Facebook uses their personal data. And another remarkable fact: young people score significantly lower here than older people. Only 1 in 3 youngsters know they can take a breach of privacy to the privacy commission; a fact known by 2 in 3 respondents older than 35. The research also indicates that Flemings have little confidence in the media industry and its regulation. The majority believes one voice or complaint lacks the strength to trigger real policy changes, thinking this can only be done through collective actions.

“In general, Flemings regard media policy as something distant and beyond them, unless it is related to their immediate environment, like privacy issues or abuse on the Internet,” says Tim Raats of the SMIT research group, connected to iMinds and the VUB. “For example, Flemings are highly suspicious of the way social media companies like Facebook and Google handle their data, clearly stating that the government should watch this closely. As many as 86% want to know more about privacy policies, but on the other hand it is striking that this does not translate into a greater knowledge about these topics.”

Nearly 60% of Flemings see a role for education and believe that media policy knowledge should be a part of the attainment levels in primary and secondary education.

Based on the findings, Ilse Mariën (iMinds - VUB) emphasizes the role of media literacy initiatives like Mediawijs, the Flemish knowledge center for media literacy: “It is clear that we must continue to work on the development of a critical view of the media and how media companies work.”