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Social news consumption leaves people media-malnourished

August 11, 2020 | By Rande Price, Research VP – DCN

It’s no surprise that social media is where consumers, especially young adults, get their news today. According to a new study from Pew Research Center, 18% of U.S adults use social media for political and election news. Unfortunately, this cohort lacks both the depth and breadth in terms of political news.


This study finds limited exposure to election news for those using social media as their political news source. Only 8% of consumers who receive most of their political news from social media report that they are following 2020 election news “very closely”. Both broadcast news followers and print news followers are more than three times more likely to follow election coverage closely (37% and 33%, respectively) than social media news followers.

Further, consumers who mainly use social platforms as their main source for political news appear to pay much less attention to news in general compared followers of other news sources. In fact, those who get their political news from cable TV are nearly twice as likely as those in the social media cohort to follow (“fairly closely”) election candidate news (70% vs. 36%).

Current events

This Pew report also analyzed data from previous studies, such as Pathways & Trust in Media. This provides insight into how well consumers that use social media as their main news source are informed on current political news. The analysis found that those in the social media group were among the least likely to have heard a lot about each of six current event stories. Further, they were also among the most likely to have heard no news on each of the six events.

Another analysis in this report identified 29 fact-based news-related questions in five Pew studies across the last nine months. The questions included topics on the presidential election, the economy, the political parties, Donald Trump’s impeachment, and the coronavirus outbreak. Pew’s analysis of the 29 questions shows a high correlation between the least accurate responses and consumers who rely mostly on social media for political news.

On average, 43% of social media news consumers answered correctly compared to 63% among those who rely mostly on news websites or apps and 56% among those who turn mostly to network TV. The only comparable group to social platforms are adults who watch local television (37% of correct answers).

False information

Unfortunately, consumers who rely on social media as their main source of political news are more likely to be exposed to false information. In fact, about a quarter of U.S. adults who get most of their news from social media are more likely than others to hear false information or unproven claims. With multiple conspiracy theories centered around the Covid-19 pandemic, about a quarter of U.S. adults who get most of their news through social media report that they heard “a lot” about Covid-19 conspiracy theories. In addition, about eight-in-ten (81%) report they heard at least “a little.” Hearing conspiracy theories is much higher among those who use social media than among those who use any of the other six platforms (broadcast TV, cable TV, print, etc.) for their political news

Demographic characteristics

The Pew study shows that those who rely on social media as their main source for political news tend to be less well-informed. Social media does little to help educate their users how to identify trusted news sources. Consumers need help to navigate through feeds where premium and trusted news brands are right alongside misinformation and disinformation.

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