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Fighting for quality news media in the digital age.

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June 15, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:25am

More now get their news on social media than from publishers (Reuters Digital News Report)

By Aisha Majid

Facebook is starting to lose its dominant position as the leading social media platform news in the face of competition from TikTok, according to the 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Report

The proportion of people directly going to news websites and apps to get their news declined from 32% to 23% across the 46 countries surveyed by the Reuters Institute. More people (28%) reported that social media is their main access point to news instead.

Publisher-reader relationships however, remained strong in some countries including the UK. Almost half (46%) of UK respondents of all ages said they accessed news directly from news websites and apps – much higher than the worldwide figure.

The increase in indirect access, said the report, has been driven by the news consumption habits of people aged 18 to 24 - so-called "Generation Z".

Even in the UK, where people still have strong connections with newsbrands, just 28% of the 18-24 age-group said they started their news journey on publisher sites or apps, compared to almost half (49%) of people over 35.

Facebook losing news audience to visual networks

The decline in the number of people accessing news directly contrasts with  the rise in the number of people using social media to find news.

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Not all social networks however, were equally popular.

Facebook remained the top social network for news but its popularity has declined as more people are using newer visual networks such as TikTok and Instagram.

The report said that TikTok has emerged "as a significant new player in the news ecosystem" - especially in parts of Latin America, Asia and Africa. It remains much less popular as a news channel in the United States, Northern Europe and Australia.

TikTok, where social influencers and entertainment dominate, is especially popular with younger news consumers.

Between 2020 and 2022, use of TikTok for news increased five-fold from 3% to 15% among Generation Z. Across all countries, 40% of 18-24s used TikTok each week, with 15% saying they used it to find, discuss or share news.

One focus group participant from Brazil told the researchers: "When TikTok was launched, it was just about dancing, choreography; not today, even though the videos are fast, they bring immediate information."

A US-based 22 year-old interviewed for the report said: "It’s so addictive ... and where it lacks in trustworthiness, it excels in presentation. It’s a news source I end up consuming because I’m also often scrolling TikTok for other reasons, but the algorithm ends up providing news anyways."

Despite TikTok’s growing popularity globally, UK publishers remain divided on how much to invest in the platform.

Sky News, which has put significant efforts into growing its TikTok audience, crossed the 1 million follower  milestone earlier this year, growing its audience ten-fold in two months. BBC News meanwhile had avoided TikTok. It recently however, set up channels in Russian and English after seeing the amount of misinformation about the Ukraine war being spread on the platform.

Despite Facebook’s popularity as a news source, a fifth of people (21%) said that there was too much news on the platform. Even on Twitter, which is popular among journalists and politicians, 11% of people thought there was too much news.

These figures said the report, "suggest the ambivalent relationship many people have with news on social media. It drives much of the conversation and engagement but can also interrupt other activities and create arguments".

This dilemma may be one of the factors behind Facebook’s recent decision to create a separate tab in five countries (Facebook News) with content from a selection of partner publishers, in parallel with an ongoing string of decisions in recent years to reduce the amount of news in the main ‘Feed’.

Newer platforms such as TikTok and Instagram will "also be aware, as they grow, of the careful balance they need to strike if they are not to put people off" cautioned the report.

Top social media and messaging apps for news in the UK:

The Reuters survey found Facebook is the dominant social media network in the UK with 62% of respondents using it and 19% using it for news.

The UK survey results came from an online questionnaire distributed by Yougov with 2410 responses in February 2022.

News on social media in the UK

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