News and social media have become inextricably linked. Social media is now among the most used news sources worldwide, outpacing radio, print news publications, blogs, and word-of-mouth. A 2020 survey revealed that over 80 percent of respondents in India aged 16 to 70 years old used social networks as their main news outlet, along with close to 60 percent of those in Argentina and Australia and over 71 percent of Brazilian news consumers. Additionally, an annual study exploring social media news consumption found that over 50 percent of adults in 24 out of the 40 measured countries used social media as a news source in general, and the share who did so in Kenya, South Africa, Malaysia, and the Philippines was over 70 percent.
Social media news consumption habits
Given the choice, many consumers now actively opt to get their updates on news and current affairs via their preferred social network rather than from other previously popular sources. Facebook and YouTube are the favorites when it comes to social media news access, with 32 percent and 20 percent of consumers around the world having used each platform for news in the last week respectively at the time of survey. Moreover, reading news stories is now one of the leading reasons for using social media worldwide, ranking above product discovery, networking, and sports, to name but a few.
Younger consumers are particularly keen on getting their news via social networks. Data on Gen Z and Millennial news consumption found that this demographic was more likely to use social media for news than all adults aged 35 or above, and reported a clear preference for social platforms over other sources such as search, mobile alerts, and email.
Social media news and trust
Despite the growing tendency among consumers across the globe to turn to social networks for news and current affairs updates, social media ranked as the least trusted source of news and information worldwide in every year from 2015 to 2021. One issue with getting news from social media is the risk of encountering false or misleading content, namely via posts with high engagement which have been shared multiple times either unknowingly or with the deliberate intention of spreading inaccurate or heavily biased information. Some consumers, indeed, consider shares and interaction to be important when identifying trustworthy news content.
A report exploring trust in online news in Latin America among female teens and young adults noted that news from social media influencers was deemed less trustworthy than mainstream and alternative media and educational institutions, though a higher share of female teenagers and young women trusted influencers than charities, private businesses, and friends or peers. Clearly, then, social media influencers were not the go-to source for this demographic, but still thought to be a more reliable alternative than certain other options. Moreover, over 20 percent of consumers aged 16 or above from the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany admitted that they were more inclined to use influencers for news than journalists or established news outlets.
As influencers continue to gain celebrity status and become brands in their own right, it is likely that a growing number of social media users around the world will begin to source updates directly from the figures they follow online. By contrast, if other news audiences continue to be distrustful of social media as a news source and find themselves adversely affected by false or suspicious links and content, some may be swayed to make the move to paid news subscriptions.
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