More people are getting their online news from social media than direct access via websites and apps. This is according to a new report by Reuters Institute, which found that 30% of respondents say that social media is the main way they come across news, versus 22% who access it directly.

Reuters notes stark differences by region – with parts of Asia, Latin America, and Africa using social media for online news far more than Northern Europe – but it also states that the shift is largely being driven by younger consumers. In the UK during the last eight years, people aged 18 to 24 have become significantly less likely to use a news website or app (with the percentage who do shrinking from 53% in 2015 to 24% in 2023) and are more dependent on social media and other intermediaries; while the preferences of UK consumers aged 35 and over have largely stayed the same (holding steady at 52% with only minor fluctuations).

The proportion of users that say either direct access or social media is their main way of getting news online (from 2018-2023). Source: Reuters Institute

Interest in Facebook wanes among young users as their attention shifts to TikTok

While overall social media usage for news may be in the ascendence, the networks that users favour – for any purpose – have certainly changed. Reuters states that, on average, Facebook usage for any purpose (57%) is down 8 percentage points (pp) since 2017, while Instagram and TikTok usage has grown by 2pp and 3pp respectively in the last year.

Again, the shift among younger consumers compared to older consumers is much starker, particularly for Facebook, where usage for any purpose has dramatically fallen among 18 to 24 year olds, from 71% in 2014 to just 38% in 2023. To put this into perspective, for the same age group, usage of Instagram for any purpose has risen from 21% to 60% within the same time period. TikTok has rapidly grown in the space of just four years, too, and now has a similar reach to Facebook (38%).

As Reuters states, the below chart “illustrates how attention has shifted, from a few big networks that drove substantial traffic to news websites to a much wider range of apps that require more investment in bespoke content and offer fewer opportunities to post links.”

The proportion of users that use each social network for any purpose (from 2014-2023). Source: Reuters Institute

Audiences are paying more attention to influencers than journalists on some social networks

Another variance in how people consume news on different platforms is the attention paid to different conversation leaders, with mainstream journalists increasingly competing with influencers and celebrities on social media. The latter two groups dominate on key platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, where conversation is largely led by ‘personalities’ rather than news brands or journalists. In fact, Facebook and Twitter are the only two platforms where the majority of audiences pay more attention to mainstream news sources.

This could be due to the kind of topics that resonate on each platform, however, with Twitter users more likely to pay attention to hard news subjects such as politics and business news than users of other networks. In contrast, users on TikTok and Instagram are more likely to consume fun or satirical posts that relate to news – which are perhaps more often created by influencers.

The proportion of users that pay attention to different sources for news. Source: Reuters Institute

Growing concerns about over-personalisation and its impact on news content

The growth of social media, search engines and other aggregators as a way to access news has led to concern over the negative impact of algorithmically-selected news, with ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘echo chambers’ thought to be serving audiences a skewed or biased view of information. Interestingly, however, Reuters found that audiences are sceptical of automatic and human selection, with only a small difference in the percentage of people citing automatic selection based on past consumption as a good way to get news (30%) versus editor or journalist selection (27%).

A more prominent opinion is scepticism related to over-personalisation and the potential that people might not be shown certain news as a result. Reuters found that, across all countries, 48% of people worry that more personalised news means they might miss out on important information and 46% worry about missing out on ‘challenging viewpoints.’ On average, figures for both are higher among those with higher levels of interest and trust in the news.

Overall, the report authors note that this level of concern could indicate a ‘generalised scepticism’ towards any method of news selection. As Reuters states: “Algorithmic news selection is far from perfect, but editorial selection isn’t perfect either – and people seem to know it.”

The proportion of users that worry about missing out on important info due to personalisation. Source: Reuters Institute

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