The efforts of journalists and news organizations to develop a Twitter presence are paying off as people pay more attention to mainstream news outlets than to other voices on the platform.
The discovery comes from the latest digital news report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. Nearly 2,000 people in 46 countries were surveyed on a range of news-related issues including trust, impartiality, and willingness to pay for content.
“We know that many journalists have put a lot of effort into boosting their presence on Twitter and Facebook and this appears to be paying off to some extent,” said the report, which this year looked at who gets the most attention on the leading social networks.
About a third of people reported that when browsing through Twitter (31%) and Facebook (28%) news from traditional outlets and journalists are more likely to get their attention – than news from other sources such as politicians and ordinary people.
But on newer networks like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok – which are favored by younger users – celebrities and influencers were more likely to be favored as sources of information.
Twitter was also chosen by a quarter of respondents (25%) as the best place to head to for the latest news – more than any other platform. Almost a third of people (32%), while reporting that Facebook was a source of news for them, confirmed that they came across this news by chance while logging into the platform for other reasons. This was much higher in the UK where more than half (56%) of people said they read the news on Facebook while they were there for other reasons.
Despite the use of Twitter and Facebook for news, the report said that journalists and news outlets have to compete for attention on these platforms.
“Even here, news brands and journalists have to compete with a range of voices that can often be more attractive and lively,” the report said. “For example, politicians and political activists, who often use social media to bypass mainstream media, receive a large share of news attention on social networks such as Twitter.”
This is particularly evident in some markets such as the US, where a quarter (26%) of people who use Twitter for news said they pay more attention to politicians when looking at news on the network.
In addition to competing with politicians and celebrities as sources of news, the mainstream media also compete with alternative news sources, with the report indicating that people who distrust news are generally more likely to seek alternative news sources.
When it comes to how important social media is to news, the report finds that many people – especially young people and those with low levels of education – continue to use these networks to get news. In the 12 countries – including the UK, Ireland, the US and Germany – which the report has tracked since 2014, about two-thirds (66%) of people use at least one social network or messaging app to read, share or discuss news.
However, the most popular social networks used to access news have changed over time.
While Facebook’s popularity declined, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok, and Telegram continued to attract more use of news. In 2021, 32% of people in these 12 countries used Facebook to access news – down from 36% in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of people using WhatsApp for news has more than doubled since 2016 from 7% to 17%. .
The UK largely reflects global trends. Over the past year, Facebook’s popularity in the UK has fallen slightly (from 24% to 23%) while the number of people accessing news via Whatsapp has doubled from 7% to 14% since 2020.
A newcomer to the app space and one of the fastest growing platforms in the world, China-owned TikTok has seen a huge rise in the number of people using it for news. Although the number of people getting their news through the vertical video platform is still a tiny 3%, the platform’s younger user base is a key demographic that publishers largely struggle to reach.
News organizations are also experimenting with a platform [TikTok] This tends towards the “hard-to-reach” under 25 demographic, according to the report. Among the media outlets that have turned to the platform to try to engage young readers via TikTok are the Washington Post and the BBC.
However, the report stated that: “New youth-oriented networks present a major challenge to mainstream media. News is largely episodic and expectations of fast, visual and fun content do not always come naturally to newsrooms in which older people operate.”
Journalists with an emphasis on traditional formats. As we have seen, experiments are still in progress but leveraging these networks with timely, relevant and engaging content remains a work in progress.”
While social media has been found to be a useful portal for news, the data suggests that the growing popularity of messaging apps has helped spread misinformation and disinformation.
While confidence in news in general grew, confidence in news from search and social networks remained broadly stable indicating a growing confidence gap in most markets. In the UK, trust in news overall was 36% (up 8 percentage points from last year) while trust in news from social media is particularly low at 6% compared to Ireland (19%) and the US (13%) for example. . and India (32%).
When asked which social network they worry most when it comes to spreading misinformation about the Covid-19 virus, 35% of people in the UK chose Facebook – in line with global findings. Meanwhile, messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram have been featured more often in countries in the Global South including Brazil, India, and Nigeria. In each of these countries, about a third of people cited WhatsApp as a source of misinformation about Covid-19.
Despite the challenges and complexities faced by mainstream media and journalists when using social media channels to share news, the report said that these networks remain an important channel.
He said, “Given the time people spend on social networks – and the dangers of false information and political propaganda – it is still important for journalists and news organizations to find ways to adapt to these more informal settings, especially if they want to engage people with low interest in news and young people ( groups that rarely go directly to news sites or apps), especially if social media can convince publishers that the platform in question provides a reasonable return on investment.”