News on social media is a fractured mess, Pew study indicates

Pew Research and the Knight Foundation have produced several lengthy reports on how Americans live news and politics on social media. There are some noteworthy statistics in the study, but to me it mostly highlights that news coverage is kind of a mess.

It’s not that news is disappearing from X, TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram, but the way most users experience news content is vastly different from platform to platform. Most of what people say they see is influenced by other unrelated accounts, not journalists and media organizations.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, researchers found that most people aren’t on social media to follow the news. A minority of TikTok (41 percent), Instagram (33 percent) and Facebook (37 percent) users reported “getting news” as their “main or minor” reason for using the platform. X was a notable exception, as Pew noted, with 65 percent of people citing news as the reason they use the service.

Given Twitter’s longstanding reputation as a news source and Meta’s relatively recent nature, this may not be particularly surprising. displacement away from the media industry. While most people on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok said they weren’t looking for news, most people reported seeing it. some of them type of news-related content on platforms.

But when you looked at the type of news participants saw, the top categories were current affairs reviews and “funny posts.” Check out the breakdown below: opinion pieces and funny posts were significantly more common than news articles or “reporting on a recent news event” on every platform. (Again, the only exception was X, where people said they saw articles about the news at about the same rate as “funny posts”.)

Most of the news content that people see is opinion pieces and funny posts.Most of the news content that people see is opinion pieces and funny posts.

Pew research

It is also surprising to consider the sources of news articles reported by study participants. On every platform except X, the primary source of news and news-related content is not journalists or media outlets. On Facebook and Instagram it’s friends and family, and on TikTok it’s ‘other people’. The “other people” category is also quite high for X, with 75 percent saying they see news from these accounts. This suggests that much of the news content people see on X and TikTok is driven by those platforms’ recommendation algorithms.

News sources look very different on each platform.News sources look very different on each platform.

Pew Research

While Pew usually repeats the same type of research regularly, allowing readers to extrapolate trends over time, this study is brand new, so unfortunately we don’t have historical data to compare all of these statistics to. But they broadly reflect what many in the media industry have experienced over the past few years. Publishers get less traffic from social media and news is increasingly filtered through influencers, meme creators and random algorithmic accounts. It’s also worth noting that most people on every platform say they see inaccurate news at least “sometimes.” And for X, which has the largest share of news consumers and people viewing journalistic content, 86 percent of participants reported seeing news that “seems inaccurate.”

The report’s authors don’t draw conclusions about what all of this means, let alone in an election year when concerns about the spread of AI-powered disinformation have grown. But the report shows that finding reliable and accurate news on social media is not simple.

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