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Where Americans get their news on social media (and why that's a problem)

Ethan Wolff-Mann
Senior Writer

In a new interview with the New Yorker, Facebook (FB) CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he gets the news from “aggregators. … There’s really no newspaper that I pick up and read front to back.”

This is also the case for a many Americans in the U.S. today, largely thanks to Facebook’s News Feed.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, checks his phone during the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 13, 2018 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, which spanned July 30 to August 12 and polled 4,581 U.S. adults, “two-thirds of American adults (68%) say they at least occasionally get news on social media.”

But even though most Americans get news from social media, the survey found that 57% also “say they expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate.”

Facebook is the most popular place to get news on social media, with 43% of Americans getting news from the platform. YouTube (21%), Twitter (12%), Instagram (8%), LinkedIn (6%), Reddit (5%), and Snapchat (5%) rounded out the big players.

(Source: Pew Research)

Fake-news, frauds, and hoaxes

In an era of instant gratification, social media’s rise as a dominant news source is expected. The most popular thing people like about social media is the convenience, which 21% of consumers listen as their favorite thing. (Other convenience-minded answers that got high marks included the speed, the format, and customization.)

But what often occurs on these platforms — particularly YouTube — is that users get caught in a feedback loop of bias-confirming content.

Furthermore, the last couple of years show that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are prime targets of state-backed misinformation campaigns, hoaxes, frauds. And when Pew asked what concerned American news consumers about information on social media, inaccuracy topped the list (31%), followed by partisanship (11%), quality (10%), and the behavior of other users (8%).

InfoWars founder Alex Jones peddled conspiracy theories for years on radio and social media before recently being banned by the major tech platforms. (Photo: Screenshot/YouTube)

And so, despite the convenience and widespread use, many Americans told Pew that they do not see themselves as more knowledgeable about current events. Only 36% said it improved their understanding while 48% said it didn’t make a difference. And for an unfortunate 15%, news consumption from social media only served to flummox.

Breaking down the demographics

Pew’s demographic breakdown in the survey paints a picture of the demographics for news consumers on the various social media platforms. LinkedIn and Reddit news consumers had the most schooling (as well as being mostly male).

source: Pew

Reddit, Twitter, and Facebook have much more of a news focus for its users, the survey found. 67% of Facebook users, 71% of Twitter users, and 73% of Reddit users get their news from those individual platforms, respectively. 

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumer issues, retail, personal finance, and more. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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