Social Media Seems Some Gains As A News Source, But Still Trails Traditional Platforms

September 14, 2017

Two-thirds (67%) of American adults get news from a social media site such as Facebook or Twitter, reports the Pew Research Center in a recent study, though slightly fewer than half (47%) do so at least sometimes. Both figures are up from early 2016, though the changes are fairly marginal.

The findings stand in apparent contrast to research released earlier this year by the Reuters Institute. That study suggested that social media was the fastest growing source of news in the US, and that a majority relied on social for the news at least weekly. However that survey was conducted among news consumers, rather than the broader adult population, which may play a part in the disparity.

Despite social media’s gains as a news source in Pew’s survey, it still trails other platforms. For now, the most popular sources used at least sometimes for news are:

  • Local TV news (64%);
  • News websites or apps (64%);
  • Radio (56%);
  • Cable TV news (55%); and
  • National evening network TV news (51%).

It’s interesting to see local TV news at the top of the list: recent research demonstrates that the ability to access local channels is considered by subscribers to be pay-TV’s key strength.

Meanwhile, print newspapers are a little further back, but far from dead. More than 4 in 10 adults (43%) read print newspapers at least sometimes.

Social’s gain, for its part, seems to have come from certain groups: older Americans, multicultural groups, and those with some college or less education. Notably, a majority (55%) of Americans ages 50 and older have used social media as a news source at some point.

Which Social Platforms Lead the Way?

As expected, Facebook is the leading social platform for news consumption: 45% of adults have at some point consumed news on the platform.

However Facebook’s lead is due to its massive reach as opposed to a heavy news consumption bias among its users. In that sense, Twitter tops the list, with 74% of its users getting news there, compared to 68% of Facebook users and 68% of Reddit users.

Twitter has been one of the fastest-growing social platforms in terms of users’ news consumption, along with YouTube, which is now a news source for 18% of the adult population, second only to Facebook.

About the Data: The results are based on a survey conducted in August 2017 among 4,971 US adults (18+).

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