Misinformation and conspiracy theories have become staples of mainstream politics in numerous countries around the world—democracies and autocracies alike. Pakistan is no exception. This report examines the causes of pervasive belief in misinformation in Pakistan—particularly nationalistic misinformation—and the consequences for the country’s relations with its neighbors, the risk of international or domestic conflict, and attitudes toward Pakistan’s many ethnic minority groups. The report also discusses steps that policymakers can take to counteract misinformation.

A man reads a morning newspaper at a market closed due to government COVID-19 restrictions in Peshawar, Pakistan, on May 1, 2021. (Photo by Muhammad Sajjad/AP)
A man reads a morning newspaper at a market closed due to government COVID-19 restrictions in Peshawar, Pakistan, on May 1, 2021. (Photo by Muhammad Sajjad/AP)

Summary

  • In Pakistan, belief in misinformation and conspiracy theories and disbelief in true information is a significant challenge, with potentially damaging consequences for interstate relations, attitudes toward minorities, and political behavior.
  • A nationally representative phone survey found widespread misperceptions and belief in conspiracy theories about Pakistani state military capability, domestic minority groups, and the country’s international reputation. 
  • Surveys and focus groups demonstrated disbelief in true information. The research suggested suspicion of traditional media and reliance on social media to determine what is true and false.
  • Political knowledge was positively associated with belief in some forms of misinformation and conspiracy theories.
  • Nationalist narratives had little impact on belief in many forms of misinformation but increased belief in unverified information about domestic minority groups.
  • Many Pakistanis are aware of the prevalence of misinformation, but survey results suggest that simple corrections of misinformation do not effectively counter negative downstream social and political beliefs.

About the Report

This report utilizes surveys and focus groups to understand patterns of belief in misinformation and conspiracy theories in Pakistan, and to explore the consequences of such belief. It provides policy recommendations on how to counter such misperceptions while promoting trust in true information. 

About the Authors

Asfandyar Mir is a senior expert in the South Asia program at the United States Institute of Peace. Niloufer Siddiqui is an assistant professor of political science at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center.
 

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