Last week, the Pew Research Center published an article entitled “News Use Across Social Media Platforms in 2020.” Written by Elisa Shearer and Amy Mitchell, the article presents the results of a survey conducted by Pew Research Center from August 31 to September 7, 2020.
The results were startling. Approximately half of Americans get their news on social media at least sometimes. Among 11 social media sites included in the survey about news sources, Facebook is the number one choice, with 36 percent of Americans getting their news from Facebook on a regular basis. YouTube is the second choice of Americans at 23 percent, and Twitter occupies third place with 15 percent.
Although it occupies third place, Twitter users who seek it out for news comprise more than 50 percent of Twitter users. Widely used YouTube has a much smaller percentage of users (32 percent) who choose to use it for news.
The choice of social media sites for news sources varies by gender. People who regularly get news on Facebook are more likely to be women than men (63 percent vs. 35 percent). Of Reddit’s regular news pursuers, 66 percent are men.
People over 50 are less likely to use social media for news, especially those over 65. For people under 30, their preference of social media platforms for news are Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram.
Users with a higher level of education select Twitter, Reddit, and LinkedIn as their choice of platforms for news, while less educated users choose Facebook and YouTube. Those who have graduate degrees choose LinkedIn and Twitter. The researchers noted that they are curious if this is an indication that this distinction maps to which social media platforms higher education teaches.
For people of color, Black and Hispanic groups prefer Instagram, while LinkedIn is the platform of choice for Asians. Whites lean toward Facebook and Reddit, with Instagram in a distant third place.
A finding that surprised me was that the majority of regular news users of many sites are Democrats or lean Democratic. None of the 11 sites included in the survey had regular users who were Republican or leaned Republican. The researchers explained the finding as likely based on the relatively young age of social media users.
I was glad to read that a majority of the Americans who receive their news on social media continue to question its accuracy. Approximately 60 percent (59 percent) of those who at least rarely get news on social media expect it to be largely inaccurate, while 39 percent expect it to be largely accurate. The finding on the percentage of users who expect their news to be largely inaccurate has held steady since 2018, according to the researchers.
Clearly, social media does not provide the clarity in news that one might find in The Washington Post, New York Times, Boston Globe, or Miami Herald. Nearly 50 percent of survey respondents (47 percent) stated that news from social media does not make a difference in their understanding of current events. At the same time, 29 percent state that it has helped their understanding, and 23 percent state that it has left them more confused.
Bryan Alexander, a higher ed professor and futurist that I follow, reviewed the survey and noted that he would like to see more data and analysis. One item of interest is how often do users report the news or share it versus just read it?
Another item of interest is whether or not users obtain the news from social media content or from professional news media reporting through social media. He also expressed an interest in including blogs in the platforms mentioned in the survey.
The power of social media platforms has been reported in newspapers and questioned on Capitol Hill for years. LikeWar, a book written about the 2016 presidential election, believes social media was utilized to secure the election of Donald Trump.
Other publications have written that social media was used to generate doubt about the veracity of the 2020 presidential election. Some politicians are stating that the social media platforms should be broken up.
The Pew Research Center survey should be of interest to any number of people who are studying how to communicate to certain segments of the population. In the old days, news used to be through newspapers, magazines, and television. If it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now that there are other sources.
As an older and highly educated white male, I still read newspapers and watch the network news on TV. More and more, I find specialized pieces of news through my Twitter feed or LinkedIn news feed. Given the data analytics power behind these platforms, I have a feeling that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others know much more about their users than the Pew Research Center.
Data is knowledge, and knowledge is power. If I were leading a major news organization, I would consider advertising on some of these platforms in order to broaden the distribution of my news.
It’s no secret that politicians have relied on social media to generate supportive voters. Will more companies join the bandwagon and increase the power of the platforms, or will more platforms surface, catering to more distinct groups?