Consumers who rely on social media for news are less informed. Where do we go from here?

Opinion A major new study from Pew Research has found US adults who predominantly get their political news from social media are less likely than other consumers to closely follow major news stories. But what is underpinning this?

The study, which analysed surveys conducted between October 2019 and June 2020, argued that US adults who rely most on social media for news tend to be younger, are less likely to be white, and have lower levels of education than those who use several platforms.

As of the end of 2019, 18% of those surveyed said their most common outlet for political and election news was through social media. This compares with 25% who use news websites or apps, 45% for television (16% local TV, 16% cable TV, 13% network TV) and 8% for radio. A study from early June found only 8% of US adults who get most of their political news from social media were following the 2020 election ‘very closely’, significantly fewer than their counterparts who turn most to cable TV (37%) and print (33%).

Only those who get the majority of their news from local television have a similar outlook to the social media group. The study found both groups were ‘often comparable in their lower levels of engagement with and knowledge of the news.’

Of those who rely on social media, almost half (48%) were aged between 18 and 29, a significant jump from news websites or apps, the next highest category (21%). Similarly, only a quarter (26%) of social-based respondents had university or college educations, with local television (56% high school education or less, 14% college or more) being the outlier.

Analysing a variety of political storylines, the social media-based group (below) scored consistently low in their awareness of them. Only a third (34%) said they had heard a lot about President Trump’s treatment of those who testified in the impeachment process, compared with 65% for print. Similarly, less than a quarter (23%) were following the coronavirus outbreak closely, compared with 50% for both network and cable TV viewers.

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