New research by Pew suggests there has been another increase in the proportion of U.S. adults getting news via social media platforms.
In May last year the researcher reported that 62 per cent of American adults were obtaining news from tech platforms, saying 18 per cent were doing so often. Now, in it’s latest survey, it says two-thirds (67%) of U.S. adults are reporting getting at least some of their news on social media. While a fifth (20%) report doing so “often”.
And while it’s not a huge increase, it is nonetheless a rise (Pew terms it a “modest” increase).
And a concerning one, given that the main social media purveyor of news — Facebook — has a demonstrable disinterest in and/or incapacity to distinguish fact from nonsensical fiction on its platform.
Indeed, as many have already pointed out Facebook’s business benefits from increased user engagement, and made-up stories that play to people’s prejudices and/or contain wild, socially divisive claims have been shown to be able to clock up far more Facebook views than factual reports of actual news.
So any rise in news consumption on social media should give pause for thought — especially as Facebook (and Google, principally) continues to suck ad revenue away from traditional media outlets, threatening the sustainability of businesses that have traditionally played a key role in a functioning democracy.
Pew’s survey is based on responses from 4,971 U.S. adults who are members of the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel. The research was carried out between August 8-21, 2017.
It said it found that growth in news consumption across social media platforms is being driven by increases among Americans who are “older, less educated and non-white” — noting that for the first time in Pew Research Center surveys more than half (55%) of Americans aged 50 or older report getting news on social media sites — up 10 percentage points from 2016.
Pew found that three of the social media platforms it asked about in 2017 — Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat — had an increase in the share of their audience that gets news on each site.
About three-quarters (74%) of Twitter users reported getting news on the site, up 15 percentage points from early 2016.
While about a third of YouTube’s users (32%) now get news from the site, up from 21% in early 2016 — so a rise of 11 percentage points.
And consuming news also rose among Snapchat’s user base — with 29% currently saying they are doing this, up from 17% in early 2016, so an increase of 12 percentage points.
Still, Facebook remains the primary social media platform for sourcing news for the U.S. population as a whole — with just under half (45%) of all U.S. adults reporting they get news on the site (aka a large majority — 68% — of Facebook’s user base).
How times change. Just a year ago Facebook was pooh-poohing the notion that the social mega-platform is playing the role of a media company. ‘We are mere tech platform’ was the refrain in September 2016, despite how its algorithms select and order news-related content for billions of users.
By December, and following the fake news backlash after the US election result, that line was approaching the breaking point of credibility, and CEO Mark Zuckerberg conceded Facebook might indeed be a media company — though he suggested it’s not a ‘traditional’ one.
And that is surely true. No other media entity on Earth has enjoyed such vast reach and power.
Little wonder Russian agents spied potential to sew social division across the U.S. population as the country was headed into the salient point of an election cycle by purchasing, targeting and distributing politically charged ads via the platform — as Facebook this week revealed had been the case.
It reported that an in-house investigation found pro-Kremlin entities appear to have purchased around $100,000 in political marketing on the platform between 2015 and 2016.
The company has so far resisted pressure to publicly reveal the ads purchased by Russian entities.
Returning to Pew’s report, its survey also found news consumption growing among YouTube’s (also growing) user-base — saying the Google/Alphabet-owned user generated video platform is now the second most common social media site for news, with roughly two-in-ten (18%) of all U.S. adults getting news there.
For Twitter, Pew said that while a very large share of its users (74 per cent) obtain news via the site, given that its user base is also significantly smaller than Facebook’s or YouTube’s this results in a smaller overall reach for news: With just 11% of U.S. adults get news via Twitter.
The researcher concluded that Americans are now more likely than ever to report getting news from multiple social media sites — with around a quarter of all U.S. adults (26%) getting news from two or more sites, up from 18% in 2016.
In additional research it also said its data shows the Internet is closing in on television as a source of news. As of August 2017, 43% of Americans report often getting news online, compared with 50% who often get news on television — so just a seven-percentage-point gap. While in early 2016 the gap between the two news platforms was 19 points.
So, in short, the Internet’s social platform giants are busily consuming broadcast/TV news media, not just print.