Social Media Is Youths’ Top Gateway to News Online, But Facebook Takes A Tumble

June 25, 2018

Social media is the main way that youth (18-24) around the world discover news online, whereas older adults are more apt to directly access news stories, according to the Digital News Report 2018 [pdf] from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Fully 53% of young adults reported coming across news stories via social media, compared to one-third (34%) of adults ages 55 and older.

The study is based on a survey of more than 74,000 online news consumers across 37 countries. The results show that young adults tend to prioritize social media and search as gateways to online news stories at a greater rate than older adults, who instead are more apt to use email and direct access to come across news articles.

(New research indicates that Google search is a bigger referrer of traffic to online articles than Facebook in most categories.)

Facebook Declines As A News Source

While Facebook is the leading social platform for news consumption in the US, it holds that position more as a result of its reach than to a heavy news consumption bias among its users.

In fact, Facebook use as a news source has declined in two-thirds of the 27 markets analyzed, per the study.

The US is one such country. As the Digital News Report reveals, weekly social media use for news has declined this year to 45% of online news consumers in the US, from 51% last year. The decline appears to be almost entirely attributable to changes in the use of Facebook for news: this year 39% of respondents in the US reported using Facebook as a source of news in the past week, down from 45% saying the same last year.

Declines in the use of Facebook for news are especially prominent among youth in the US. This year 31% of 18-24-year-olds in the US said they used Facebook for news in the previous week, down from 45% saying so in 2016. Likewise, fewer 25-34-year-olds (42% vs. 54%) and 35-44-year-olds (39% vs. 48%) had used Facebook for news in the previous week, while the proportion of respondents ages 55 and older doing so (38%) has remained steady.

Overall, the study indicates that people with very low levels of news literacy are more likely to use social media for news than those with very high levels of news literacy, who prefer newspapers and newspaper websites to a much greater degree.

People Just Aren’t That Into News Video

Facebook could be able to recover some of its decline by virtue of its position as a source of offsite online video news. For the 51% of respondents worldwide who consumed news-related video offsite, Facebook (33%) is the top platform for video news. Indeed, news consumers are as likely to watch news videos on Facebook as they are to watch them on all news websites collectively (33%).

However, online news consumers retain a strong preference for text over video news. Even in the US, where more respondents this year said they consume mostly video news (12%), more than 5 times as many (62%) mostly consume news in text.

And while the slightly greater proportion in the US this year consuming news mostly via video suggests a greater role to come for Facebook, separate results indicate that more than twice as many respondents in the US would rather see fewer (29%) than more (13%) news videos in the future.

The report does note some strong regional differences here. Respondents in the US, UK, Germany and Finland, for example, are firmly in the camp of wanting fewer videos, whereas those in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong and Malaysia skew towards a greater desire for more videos rather than fewer.

Messaging Apps on the Rise?

Last year’s report identified a news source on the rise: messaging apps. This year’s edition of the study indicates that these apps are continuing their slow rise as influential players in the news ecosystem.

Some 26% of respondents worldwide this year report using messaging apps for news purposes in the previous week, up from 23% last year. WhatsApp is the most popular, with 16% of respondents using it for news, with FB Messenger next (10%).

Among respondents who use Facebook and/or WhatsApp for the news, Facebook users are more likely to click on a link to get more information and to look at news headlines and videos (without clicking further), whereas WhatsApp users are more apt to take part in private or group discussions about a news story or particular news topic.

Not surprisingly, the use of messaging apps for news is highest among younger adults. Within the US, 26% of 18-24-year-olds used such apps for news purposes in the week prior to the survey, as did 21% of 25-34-year-olds. Just 8% of respondents ages 55 and older concurred.

The full report can be viewed here [pdf].

About the Data: The results are based on an online survey of more than 74,000 people across 27 countries (at least 2,000 in each save for Taiwan), all of whom reported having consumed news in the past month.

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