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Examining News Use Across Social Media Platforms in 2020

Examining News Use Across Social Media Platforms in 2020

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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?

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Wally Boston Dr. Wallace E. Boston was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of American Public University System (APUS) and its parent company, American Public Education, Inc. (APEI) in July 2004. He joined APUS as its Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer in 2002. In September 2019, Dr. Boston retired as CEO of APEI and retired as APUS President in August 2020. Dr. Boston guided APUS through its successful initial accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 and ten-year reaccreditation in 2011. In November 2007, he led APEI to an initial public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange. For four years from 2009 through 2012, APEI was ranked in Forbes' Top 10 list of America's Best Small Public Companies. During his tenure as president, APUS grew to over 85,000 students, 200 degree and certificate programs, and approximately 100,000 alumni. While serving as APEI CEO and APUS President, Dr. Boston was a board member of APEI, APUS, Hondros College of Nursing, and Fidelis, Inc. Dr. Boston continues to serve as a member of the Board of Advisors of the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment (NILOA), a member of the Board of Overseers of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, and as a member of the board of New Horizons Worldwide. He has authored and co-authored papers on the topic of online post-secondary student retention, and is a frequent speaker on the impact of technology on higher education. Dr. Boston is a past Treasurer of the Board of Trustees of the McDonogh School, a private K-12 school in Baltimore. In his career prior to APEI and APUS, Dr. Boston served as either CFO, COO, or CEO of Meridian Healthcare, Manor Healthcare, Neighborcare Pharmacies, and Sun Healthcare Group. Dr. Boston is a Certified Public Accountant, Certified Management Accountant, and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He earned an A.B. degree in History from Duke University, an MBA in Marketing and Accounting from Tulane University’s Freeman School of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in Higher Education Management from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. In 2008, the Board of Trustees of APUS awarded him a Doctorate in Business Administration, honoris causa, and, in April 2017, also bestowed him with the title President Emeritus. In August 2020, the Board of Trustees of APUS appointed him Trustee Emeritus. In November 2020, the Board of Trustees announced that the APUS School of Business would be renamed the Dr. Wallace E Boston School of Business in recognition of Dr. Boston's service to the university. Dr. Boston lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

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