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Facebook and social media provide news to half of UK adults

social media news increasing in UK

“If it bleeds it leads”, that’s the old hacks’ motto for judging the news value of a story. Now, according to the latest Ofcom report it’s the old-school media itself that’s bleeding. The internet beats radio and newsprint for news junkies and social media is now used by half of UK adults as a news provider according to the media regulator’s research.


Where are Britons getting their news from?

The annual study investigates the television, radio, print and internet news habits of the UK public.

It has found that 66% of people get their news from the internet as a whole, with 49% using social media to keep them up-to-date on what’s going on in the world.

While television news is still the number one source at 75%, that figure has declined by four per cent since last year. In the same time frame, use of social media for news has increased by five percent from 44% in 2018.

  Total percentage of people who use each news medium
  2018 2019
Television 79% 75%
Internet 66% 64%
Radio 44% 43%
Newspapers (print + online/apps) 40% 38%

Radio was used by 43% of people and poor old print newspapers are down to just 38%.

Thirty eight per cent of adults said they used internet news sources outside of social media, such as media companies’ own websites or apps.

Twenty eight per cent used solely social media for their online news, 18% only other internet resources and 20% used both.

Among the social media users, 73% look to Facebook for news. Interestingly, that figure has declined from 76% in 2018. Perhaps the mounting privacy scandals afflicting the social behemoth are beginning to make users think twice about visiting Zuckerberg’s wildly successful platform.

  Total % of people who use each news resource
Facebook 73%
Twitter 33%
WhatsApp 30%
Instagram 28%
Snapchat 17%
Google+ 14%
LinkedIn 9%
Reddit 6%
Tumblr 2%
Viber 2%
Other platform 2%

Twitter, the go-to resource for purveyors of click-bait, hot takes and outrage, is also rarely out of the news itself. Yet, just 33% of social media users report it as a news source.

mobile phone receiving news

That's only 3% more than Whatsapp which, in English speaking countries at least, is more usually thought of as a communications platform than a tool for following the latest news stories. The Facebook-owned messaging platform has gone from 22% using it as a source last year to 30% in 2019.

Instagram comes in at 28%, Snapchat at 17%, followed by the now-cancelled Google+ at 14%, which is given the added humiliation of an asterisk on the report stating that the researchers think “some of the respondents may have misinterpreted what Google+ is.”

The rest are made up of LinkedIn at 9%, Reddit 6%, with Tumblr, Viber and others at 2%.

It’s striking that the survey results social media breakdowns don’t include the second-most-popular social media website on the planet. Youtube is a significant news source for many, especially for millennials and Generation Z.


Who’s reading what?

Of course, what’s a survey without a demographic breakdown?

Twitter, Whatsapp, LinkedIn and Reddit are used more often by men for news gathering, while women tend to prefer Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

  Male Female
Facebook 68% 77%
Twitter 39% 29%
WhatsApp 33% 27%
Instagram 24% 30%
Snapchat 14% 19%
Google+ 15% 13%
LinkedIn 12% 7%
Reddit 10% 3%
Tumblr 3% 2%
Viber 3% 1%
Other platform 2% 2%

Unsurprisingly, 16 to 24 year olds are more likely to use social media for news than those aged 65 or older. Although, it is somewhat remarkable that 3% of the over-65s report using Tumblr for news but 0% of them visit Reddit.

  16-24 year olds 65+
Facebook 65% 62%
Twitter 43% 26%
WhatsApp 31% 10%
Instagram 50% 8%
Snapchat 44% 2%
Google+ 9% 11%
LinkedIn 10% 4%
Reddit 12% 0%
Tumblr 4% 3%
Viber 2% 0%
Other platform 2% 4%

Intriguingly, apart from Facebook, there are significantly more minority ethnic groups who use social media for news than white people. Facebook is reported as a source for 75% of white people versus 64% for minorities.

  Minority Ethnic White
Facebook 64% 75%
Twitter 41% 31%
WhatsApp 48% 25%
Instagram 46% 23%
Snapchat 28% 13%
Google+ 17% 13%
LinkedIn 16% 7%
Reddit 9% 5%
Tumblr 4% 2%
Viber 3% 2%
Other platform 2% 2%

Why white people prefer Facebook and minorities prefer other platforms is not addressed in the report. However, research from the American Press Institute in 2015 found a similar pattern among US news consumers.


Do people trust their news?

In the era of the “fake news” moral panic what about truthiness?

When it comes to values like quality, accuracy, trustworthiness and impartiality magazines are inexplicably rated higher than any other news platform.

news debate

Apparently, advertiser-funded magazines like Time, the Economist, the Week, Private Eye and others have earned more esteem than even the heavily-regulated broadcast news networks.

It may come as some relief to the press pack to learn that the public aren’t as easily led astray as they seem to fear, as social media platforms are not seen very favourably in comparison to other media.

Sixty-two per cent of social media news junkies rejected the idea that it was trustworthy. For readers of magazines 82% believed they were trustworthy, for TV news the figure is 71%, radio comes third at 67% and ye olde newsprint gets a respectable 66%.

  TV Print Newspapers Radio Social Media Other Internet Magazines
Is high quality 76% 68% 67% 42% 61% 81%
Accurate 72% 66% 67% 39% 59% 79%
Trustworthy 71% 66% 67% 38% 58% 82%
Impartial 62% 58% 61% 37% 51% 78%

Forty one percent of social media users mainly get their news from posts compared to 30% who mostly get it directly from media companies’ websites or apps and 25% who use both as sources.


Does traditional news media have a future?

Away from social media, the internet is helping legacy media continue to reach its audience.

TV news is watched by 23% of people online and 12% listen to online radio news. Radio podcasts reach 7% of people and TV news podcasts are watched by 6% of respondents.

Websites and apps of print newspapers are used by 19% compared to 12% reading content from online-only news organizations like Buzzfeed or the Huffington Post.

Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates worried writing would kill memory, 80’s new wave band the Buggles complained Video Killed the Radio Star and the British Phonographic Industry warned home taping was killing music. Amazingly, all these things are still with us in one form or, in some cases, many forms.

The Ofcom survey shows the UK public to have diverse and discriminating taste when it comes to news consumption. These may be turbulent times for traditional news outlets but there still appears to be room at the table for everyone.

Indeed, the oldest form of news media is still going strong and gaining ground. In 2019, 33% of people reported getting their news briefings by word of mouth. Gossip is up 3% from 30% in 2018.

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