News on social media is a fractured mess, Pew study indicates

Finding reliable and accurate news on social media is far from straightforward.

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Pew Research and the Knight Foundation just put out a pair of lengthy reports on how Americans are experiencing news and politics on social media. There are a number of noteworthy stats in the research but, for me, it mostly underscores that news distribution is kind of a mess.

It’s not that news has disappeared from X, TikTok, Facebook and Instagram, but the way that most users are encountering news content is vastly different from platform to platform. And much of what people say they are seeing is not coming from journalists and media organizations but influencers other unconnected accounts.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers found that most people aren’t on social media to follow news. A minority of TikTok (41 percent), Instagram (33 percent) and Facebook (37 percent) users reported that “getting news” was a “major or minor” reason they used the platform. X, as Pew points out, was a notable exception, with 65 percent of people reporting news as a reason they use the service.

That may not be especially surprising, given Twitter’s long-running reputation as a news source and Meta’s more recent shift away from the media industry. And even though majorities of Facebook, Instagram and TikTok said they didn’t seek out news, most people reported that they see some kind of news-related content on the platforms.

But when you dig into the kind of news participants say they see, the top categories were opinions and “funny posts” about current events. Look at the breakdown below: opinions and funny posts were significantly more prevalent than news articles or “information about a breaking news event” on every platform. (Again, the only exception was X, where people said they see articles at roughly the same rate as “funny posts” about the news.)

Most of the news-related content people see is opinions and funny posts.
Pew research

It’s also striking to consider the sources for news-related posts reported by the study's participants. On every platform except X, the top source of news and news-related content is not journalists or media orgs. On Facebook and Instagram, it’s friends and family, and on TikTok it’s “other people.” The “other people” category is also quite high for X, with 75 percent saying they see news from these accounts. This suggests that much of the news content people see on X and TikTok is being driven by those platforms’ recommendation algorithms.

News sources looks very different on each platform.
Pew Research

While Pew typically repeats the same sorts of studies at regular intervals, allowing readers to extrapolate trends over time, this study is brand new, so unfortunately, we don’t have historical data to compare all these stats to. But they do broadly reflect what many in the media industry have been experiencing over the last few years. Publishers are getting far less traffic from social media, and news is increasingly filtered through influencers, meme creators and random algorithmically-surfaced accounts. It’s also worth noting that for every platform, most people said that at least “sometimes” they see inaccurate news. And for X, which had the biggest share of news consumers and people seeing journalistic content, 86 percent of participants reported seeing news that “seems inaccurate.”

The report’s authors don’t draw a conclusion about what this all means in general, let alone in an election year when there is increasing anxiety about the spread of AI-fueled misinformation. But the report suggests that finding reliable and accurate news on social media is far from straightforward.

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