A growing number of Americans get their news through social media. That’s what the latest Pew Research survey demonstrates.
This is obviously of interest to anyone tracking technology use. It should be vital for educators, as this describes information habits of our population: students, instructors, staff, and everyone else.
To begin with, the numbers are growing. Pew actually claims a majority of Americans get news from social media. This feels like a bit of an exaggeration, given that a chunk of respondents in that majority say they use social media for news “hardly ever”. If we remove that 18% and stick with people who do this “often” and “sometimes,” we’re left with 44% – not a majority, but still very substantial.
Moreover, those numbers are growing across most platforms. Given social media’s continued expansion, we should expect its use for news-gathering to reach a real majority shortly.
Which platforms do we use to get news? Facebook is the leader here, in terms of total American population, followed by Twitter and YouTube:
Facebook is by far the largest social networking site, reaching 67% of U.S. adults. The two-thirds of Facebook users who get news there, then, amount to 44% of the general population. YouTube has the next greatest reach in terms of general usage, at 48% of U.S. adults. But only about a fifth of its users get news there, which amounts to 10% of the adult population. That puts it on par with Twitter, which has a smaller user base (16% of U.S. adults) but a larger portion getting news there.
If we consider proportions of users who get their news from social media, a slightly different picture appears. Facebook continues to loom large, but Reddit takes the lead:
One final point: demographics seem to show familiar patterns. Let me focus in on two, gender and age:
Overall, it seems that men and women get news this way in roughly the same proportions. There are differences by platform, most notably with women dominating news-gathering on Instagram, and men leading on Reddit. Note that more women than men get news from Facebook, the leading social media platform.
In terms of age, the usual, often-maligned, yet fairly reliable pattern of youth indicating a greater use of technology continues, with one exception. Watch the numbers fall from the 18-29-year-old heights to senior lows on Facebook, YouTube (which surprised me), Twitter (very stark: 38 to 3!), Instagram (58 to 2!), and Reddit (59 to 0). The exception is LinkedIn, with the largest news-hound group being 30-49 years old, followed by the 50-64 crowd.
This reminds me of Bernie Sanders’ observation in a recent TIME magazine interview:
Younger people don’t watch television. They don’t even read the New York Times. But they do get it through social media. We’re able to communicate effectively through social media. We’re not able to communicate effectively with old media. That breaks my heart because I spent my whole damn life fighting for senior citizens and disabled veterans. So what does that mean? The Democratic Party is gonna have to figure out a way to communicate directly with younger people and working families outside of the context of corporate media… [emphasis in original]
In sum, a useful snapshot of how we use social media in 2016. Are you seeing any echoes of this in your life?