A new report from Pew Research reveals that about a third of American adults continue to receive their news regularly from Facebook, although the exact percentage has fallen from 36% in 2020 to 31% in 2021. The drop reflects a slight overall decline in number of Americans who say they get their news from any social media platform – a percentage that also declined by 5 percentage points year over year, from 53% in 2020 to just under 48%, according to the Pew study.
By definition, “regularly” here means that survey respondents reported receiving their news “often” or “sometimes”, as opposed to “rarely”, “never” or “do not receive digital information”.
The change comes at a time when tech companies are coming under scrutiny for allowing disinformation to spread across their platforms, Pew notes. This criticism intensified during the pandemic, leading to hesitation and refusal of vaccines, which in turn worsened the health problems of many Americans who consumed the misleading information.
Despite these issues, the percentage of Americans who regularly receive their news from various social media sites has not changed too much over the past year, showing how much of these sites are part of people’s daily habits.
In addition to a third of American adults who regularly receive information on Facebook, 22% report receiving regular information on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram are regular news sources for 13% and 11% of Americans, respectively.
However, many sites have seen a slight decline as a regular source of information among their own users, Pew explains. This is a different measure from the much lower percentage of American adults who use the sites for information, because it indicates how the sites’ own user bases may perceive them. In a way, this is a measure of changing news consumption behaviors of the often younger social media user, more specifically.
Today, 55% of Twitter users regularly receive news from its platform, up from 59% last year. Meanwhile, Reddit users’ use of the site for news has increased from 42% to 39% in 2021. YouTube has increased from 32% to 30% and Snapchat from 19% to 16%. Instagram is pretty much the same, at 28% in 2020 to 27% in 2021.
Only one social media platform has grown as a news source during this time: TikTok.
In 2020, 22% of users of the shorthand video platform said they regularly get their news there, up from a 29% increase in 2021.
Overall, however, most of these sites have very little success with the adult population at large in the United States. Less than one in 10 Americans regularly receives news from Reddit (7%), TikTok (6%), LinkedIn (4%), Snapchat (4%), WhatsApp (3%) or Twitch (1%).
There are also demographic differences between who uses which sites.
White adults tend to turn to Facebook and Reddit for the news (60% and 54%, respectively). Black and Hispanic adults make up significant proportions of regular Instagram news consumers (20% and 33%, respectively.) Young adults tend to turn to Snapchat and TikTok, while the majority of news consumers on Instagram LinkedIn have a four-year college degree.
Of course, Pew’s latest survey, conducted July 26 through August 8, 2021, is based on self-reported data. This means that people’s responses are based on how users perceive their own use of these different sites for information gathering. This may produce different results from actual measures of how often users visited sites to read the news. Some users may underestimate their usage and others may overestimate it.
People also may not fully understand the ramifications of reading news on social media, where headlines and posts are often turned into inflammatory clickbait in order to attract engagement in the form of reactions and comments. This, in turn, can encourage strong reactions – but not necessarily from those worth listening to. In recent studies by Pew, he found that consumers of information on social media tended to be less informed of the facts on key current topics, like elections or Covid-19. And social media consumers were more frequently exposed to fringe conspiracies (which is pretty obvious to anyone reading the comments!)
For the current study, the complete sample size was 11,178 respondents and the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 1.4 percentage points.