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When it comes to news consumption, we’ve reached a tipping point. According to the latest Pew Research report, one-half of U.S. adults now get their news “at least sometimes” from social media. While people might still turn on their TV for the nightly news, or read a newspaper here and there, the clear trend seems to be in favor of social media news consumption. For now, the social media platform of choice appears to be Facebook, followed by YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
If you’re not getting your news from social media you’re now in the minority
The trend toward social media news consumption has a number of interesting complications. For one, it changes who consumes the news. Right now, says Pew Research, the largest segment of social media news consumers are young adults under age 30. Older adults, it appears, are still content to get their news from “traditional” news sources. As a result of social media news consumers skewing younger, the reality is that many young people now get their news from unlikely sources such as Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, and (I kid you not) Twitch.
Moreover, social media usage appears to differ according to political affiliation. The majority of regular news consumers are Democrats. There is no single social media platform that has regular news consumers who are more likely to be Republicans or lean Republican. It doesn’t matter if you go to Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram or even to TikTok, you will always be more likely to find Democrats than Republicans.
Social media creates political divides
If anything, this suggests that social media now has a very direct impact on how politics in this nation play out. Many Republicans, it appears, have given up on social media as being representative of what they stand for. They see all the political drama surrounding a social media platform like Twitter, and conclude that Twitter is not for them. They see their friends being kicked off platforms like YouTube or Instagram, and assume that they need to form their own social media networks, such as Gab, Parler or Truth Social.
In addition, it’s easy to see why people complain about the existence of an “echo chamber” on social media these days. It seems that people are not going to social media to consume neutral, unbiased news. Rather they are going to social media to consume news that reinforces their own views and beliefs, as well as the views and beliefs of their friends and family. There is no longer any single “truth” to the news, there is only “narrative.” Contrast that to the way it was a generation ago, when nearly everyone agreed that a newscaster like Walter Cronkite was the epitome of trust, knowledge and discernment.
What is the future of social media news consumption?
It will be interesting to see how Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter changes the way people consume the news. Right now, Twitter only ranks as the No. 3 social media platform for news consumption, trailing both Facebook and YouTube. As noted above, part of the reason for this might be the current censorship and de-platforming controversy swirling around Twitter. Most likely, a good number of people have abandoned Twitter for that reason. Another reason might be that younger adults under age 30 simply view platforms like TikTok as being much more relevant for them.
There is one final implication for social media becoming the preferred destination for news consumption. Quite simply, the bar has been lowered for what it means to be a normal, educated adult in America. A generation ago, it meant reading the newspaper on a daily basis and tuning in for the nightly news before or after dinner. Now, it simply means watching a few viral TikTok videos or reading a few Facebook updates from your friends. On the basis of this, we’re supposed to be making informed choices about the economy and foreign policy. If democracy has a bright, shining future in America, we need to be doing better than this.