Myth #23: People get their news only via social media.
Myth: People, and especially young Internet users, get their news only via social media. They ignore traditional news media. We live in filter bubbles, fall for fake news and are manipulated in our decision-making by social media content.
Busted: It is true that many people use social media. For example, 74 percent of adult Internet users in the US use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram within a regular week; in Germany this figure is 58 percent (Reuters Institute Digital News Study 2019). It is also true that some people, accidentally or not, encounter news content on social media. Be it because they see forwarded articles, because they learn about discussions on current topics, because they receive advertisements from news outlets or because they follow news media, journalists or politicians.
Overall, however, people mainly use traditional news media brands for their information, either via the corresponding websites or apps on the Internet (US: 43%; Germany: 47 %), or via real, actual television, radio, newspapers and magazines (US: 69 %; Germany: 83 %), which continue to play an important role, too. In our news consumption, as in anything else, we, humans, are intricate creatures. People obtain information through an individually compiled combination of different news outlets, the so-called “news repertoire”, which often is based on cross-media use.
For some people, social media is definitely a part of their news repertoire (US: 46 %; Germany: 34 %), but just for a few users it is the most important news source (US: 18 %; Germany: 10 %) and only for a small minority of people who are not at all interested in hard news it is the only one used news source (US: 5,6 %; Germany: 2,7 %). In this pattern, there are hardly any differences between older and younger age groups. Although older users are a little more interested in news about the world than younger ones, young users nevertheless inform themselves via various news sources and mainly pursue their age-dependent interests in social media.
In studies after studies, it holds true that social media are mainly used to get and exchange information about the latest developments from the circle of friends and acquaintances, but not to consume general news, nor to search for them explicitly. Social media are not perceived as a suitable place for news and the wide diversity of actors who spread news there is little trusted. Therefore, for most people across the age groups, news information in social media is merely a by-catch that cannot be avoided.
Users who actively choose to follow news content in social media are in a minority compared to the total number of users. Those who follow news sites, journalists and politicians are usually those who are particularly interested in current news topics and they use a particularly broad and diverse news repertoire of numerous news outlets, likewise outside of social media.
Therefore, it is true that some people encounter news in social media, but usually this is not an intended source for news information, nor is it their only source for news. The assumption that even young people only get news via social media is just a persistent myth.
Truth: Social media plays an important role in many people’s lives but social media are usually not used for the purpose of getting news information. News is rather a kind of inevitable by-catch for social media users. The vast majority of Internet users across all age groups uses traditional news media brands on- and offline, and only a small minority of social media users limits its news consumption to social media platforms.
Source: Uwe Hasebrink and Sascha Hölig, Deconstructing Audiences in Converging Media Environments, in Sergio Sparviero, Corinna Peil, Gabriele Balbi (eds.), Media Convergence and Deconvergence (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 113-133. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-51289-1_6; Nic Newman, Richard Fletcher, Antoins Kalogeropoulos, Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019 (University of Oxford: Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 2018), www.digitalnewsreport.org.