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Less Than 15 Years Since Its Introduction: Americans Are Already Wary Of The Role Social Media Plays In Delivering The News – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Elisa Shearer, Lead Research Associate, Pew Research Center…

October 2, 2019

“When you ask if you think that they (social media) are prioritizing companies that have high reporting standards, for example, or are well-established, maybe from older platforms like print, a lot fewer people see those types of organizations being emphasized on social media. Granted, that’s the public’s view of what’s happening, but they definitely don’t see that when they’re turning to these platforms. They’re seeing  a lot of content from companies that aren’t necessarily well-established or that don’t have super-high reporting standards.”…Elisa Shearer

 

A Mr. Magazine™ Musing…

It took years, hundreds of years in the case of print and ink on paper,  before people were wary of the role newspapers, magazines, and even television play in delivering the news to their audience.  However, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center, people are wary of the role social media plays in delivering the news, a platform that is less than 15 years old.  While people are turning more and more to social media, they’re not exactly placing their full trust in the resources they find there.

I reached out to Elisa Shearer, lead research associate in the study, and she gave me some very interesting background and statistics on what they found during this eye-opening research study.

Elisa said that while people do use social media for their news, it’s not necessarily for its validity. Convenience, quickness, and the fact that breaking information can usually be found in a matter of seconds after it happens, would appear to be some of the main reasons people gravitate toward their social media when it comes to consuming news.

It’s a very interesting study that shows quite a few insights into our fascination and often obsession with logging into all things social media when it comes to educating ourselves about what’s going on in the world.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Elisa Shearer, lead research associate on this study, Pew Research Center. I think you’ll be amazed and somewhat surprised.

But first the sound-bites:

On whether the fact that more and more people are using social media for news, yet they’re  wary of it, surprised her: Actually, no, we have seen something like that before. Last year we saw the majority of social media news users who thought that the news they were going to see was largely inaccurate. But when we asked about the reasons why they were using social media for news, a lot of them cited the convenience; they liked interacting with people; it was useful for getting breaking news, so we know some of the reasons that people are turning to these sources even though they’re very pessimistic about it.

 On whether the rift we’re seeing in our country is also reflected in social media: That’s an interesting question. Thinking about the role this kind of pessimism, about the role social media companies are playing; you see 62 percent of Americans saying that these social media companies have too much control; 55 percent say that what these companies are doing results in a worse mix of news. You do see a party break there, where Republicans are more skeptical about these things; 75 percent of Republicans say that social media companies have too much control, for example. That’s more than the Democrats who say that.

On why she feels there is this big dependency on social media: We’ve compared the trust that people have in national news organizations and local news organizations. For example, the trust that they have with the news that they get from social media, and the trust of those national and local news organizations; it’s much higher with the national and local news sources than with the news they get from social media.

On whether she is concerned by the fact that many people who are aged 65 + aren’t big social media users: Based on the different platforms that people are going to, there is a lot of large age differences in the people who are getting news from TV, for example. This is from 2018, only 8 percent of the 65 + are getting news from social media, but also a lot of the growth in the online news that we’ve seen recently has been led by those 50 and older.

 On whether she is concerned by the status of news today based on her research: I don’t usually speak to my personal concern, but we have been seeing really interesting changes in the way that people are getting news. Last year, the percent of those who get their news consumption from social media often has just surpassed those who get their news from print newspapers often. But also I see a lot of consistency, so I’m tracking social media news here right now. We’ve seen a lot of growth over the past couple of years, but at the same time overall, television is still the most commonly-used platform for news.

On whether the question has come up during her research of why people use social media so much if they’re wary of it: Yes, we have asked that question, but people typically say that it’s very convenient. They’re going to social media sites for a different reason and the news just kind of shows up there. Or that they go there when there’s breaking information, they will go to Twitter, for example. And people have said that they enjoy interacting with people, they enjoy the speed that they get to news, and they enjoy the fact that it’s up-to-date. That’s from a study that we did last year.

On if her research might indicate there is still hope for ink on paper publications when it comes to news: I can’t speak to that directly. We asked people about their sense of what types of organizations are being prioritized by social media companies. Most people say that they know that social media companies are treating some news organizations differently than others. And most people said they kind of see them prioritizing companies that produce attention-grabbing articles or that have a lot of social media followers.

On what she hopes the general public will take away from this study: Great question. People have a lot of different concerns with news on social media, one-sided news, inaccurate news; both of those things are named as a very big problem by about half of the public. There’s also a number of other problems that people named; 35 percent said they disliked the uncivil discussions about the news on social media; 27 percent said that they’re concerned about harassment of journalists; 24 percent said they’re concerned about news organizations being banned, for example. So, I hope that the general public who are reading the study will see part of their own experience reflecting in the figures and be able to think about that more clearly.

On anything she’d like to add: It is interesting that we haven’t seen a lot of growth in social media news use from about 2016. The percent of news gotten in 2016 there often was 18 percent; 20 percent in 2017; 20 percent in 2018. And this year it increased to 28 percent, so 28 percent of Americans are getting their news from social media often. And 55 percent of Americans get news from social media often or sometimes. So, that’s a growth that we’ve seen in the past year.

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Elisa Shearer, lead research associate, Pew Research Center.

 Samir Husni: People are using more and more social media, yet they are wary of social media when it comes to delivering news. Was that a big surprise to you?

Elisa Shearer: Actually, no, we have seen something like that before. Last year we saw the majority of social media news users who thought that the news they were going to see was largely inaccurate. But when we asked about the reasons why they were using social media for news, a lot of them cited the convenience; they liked interacting with people; it was useful for getting breaking news, so we know some of the reasons that people are turning to these sources even though they’re very pessimistic about it.

Samir Husni: Do you feel that this rift we’re seeing in our country is also reflected in social media?

Elisa Shearer: That’s an interesting question. Thinking about the role this kind of pessimism, about the role social media companies are playing; you see 62 percent of Americans saying that these social media companies have too much control; 55 percent say that what these companies are doing results in a worse mix of news. You do see a party break there, where Republicans are more skeptical about these things; 75 percent of Republicans say that social media companies have too much control, for example. That’s more than the Democrats who say that.

But what’s interesting to me is that even though Republicans are a little bit more pessimistic about this, about half of the Democrats are giving these kind of negative answers. So, 52 percent of Democrats say that the companies have too much control; 49 percent of Democrats and lean Democrats say that these actions result in a worse mix of news.

Samir Husni: Why do you think there’s this big dependency on social media? Do you feel that the legacy news organizations have given up or they just can’t do anything about it?

Elisa Shearer: We’ve compared the trust that people have in national news organizations and local news organizations. For example, the trust that they have with the news that they get from social media, and the trust of those national and local news organizations; it’s much higher with the national and local news sources than with the news they get from social media.

Another thing to consider is that in a different study that we did, we asked people in real time whether they were getting news online. And after they got that news by clicking on a link, we asked them to write down the name of the source of that link. So, a lot of those were from social media. They would click on a link and we’d ask them to name the organization that they ended up on. And people could only provide an answer about half of the time. I think one thing to consider is that a lot of times social media news consumers aren’t even aware or they don’t remember the name of the actual organizations they’re consuming from. We know a lot of the news on social media sites comes from legacy news organizations, like The New York Times dotcom, CNN; they all have a social media presence too.

But there’s kind of a disconnect between people’s awareness of where that news is coming from when they’re getting it from a place like Facebook or Twitter.

Samir Husni: As a researcher, are you worried that when you look at the numbers and you find that the majority of the people who are aged 65 +, which there is almost 72 million of them in this country, are not big users of social media? Is that adding to the divide in the country between the baby boomers and everybody else?

Elisa Shearer: Based on the different platforms that people are going to, there is a lot of large age differences in the people who are getting news from TV, for example. This is from 2018, only 8 percent of the 65 + are getting news from social media, but also a lot of the growth in the online news that we’ve seen recently has been led by those 50 and older.

 Samir Husni: Looking at one of the graphics in the report, it’s funny that it’s only Facebook and Twitter when it comes to the more mature people. 

Elisa Shearer: That graphic isn’t telling you that 24 percent of 50 to 64 year olds get news on Facebook, what it’s telling you is that 24 percent of Facebook’s news users are 50 to 64. Snapchat and Reddit are definitely the sites where the news consumers who view are a lot younger.

Samir Husni: If someone asks you if you’re concerned about the status of news in our country based on your research, what would you say?

Elisa Shearer: I don’t usually speak to my personal concern, but we have been seeing really interesting changes in the way that people are getting news. Last year, the percent of those who get their news consumption from social media often has just surpassed those who get their news from print newspapers often. But also I see a lot of consistency, so I’m tracking social media news here right now. We’ve seen a lot of growth over the past couple of years, but at the same time overall, television is still the most commonly-used platform for news.

So, we’re tracking these new ways that people are getting news and all the ways that’s changing, but a lot of the stuff, like the dependency on television, we just did a big study on local news and local TV, a lot of that kind of environment hasn’t changed that much.

Samir Husni: Have you asked yourself, if people are so wary of social media, why are they using it more?

Elisa Shearer: Yes, we have asked that question, but people typically say that it’s very convenient. They’re going to social media sites for a different reason and the news just kind of shows up there. Or that they go there when there’s breaking information, they will go to Twitter, for example. And people have said that they enjoy interacting with people, they enjoy the speed that they get to news, and they enjoy the fact that it’s up-to-date. That’s from a study that we did last year.

So, we’ve asked that question because so many people do kind of expect it to be inaccurate, they’re concerned about inaccuracies, they’re concerned about biased news on those platforms, but they like the fact that it’s convenient and that it can come to them quickly.

Samir Husni: Based on this research, does this give hope to the print publications, to the newsweeklies, to newspapers, there is still room for ink on paper publications when it comes to news? Or news on paper is an oxymoron now?

Elisa Shearer: I can’t speak to that directly. We asked people about their sense of what types of organizations are being prioritized by social media companies. Most people say that they know that social media companies are treating some news organizations differently than others. And most people said they kind of see them prioritizing companies that produce attention-grabbing articles or that have a lot of social media followers.

When you ask if you think that they are prioritizing companies that have high reporting standards, for example, or are well-established, maybe from older platforms like print, a lot fewer people see those types of organizations being emphasized on social media. Granted, that’s the public’s view of what’s happening, but they definitely don’t see that when they’re turning to these platforms. They’re seeing  a lot of content from companies that aren’t necessarily well-established or that don’t have super-high reporting standards.

 Samir Husni: What do you want the public to take away from this study?

Elisa Shearer: Great question. People have a lot of different concerns with news on social media, one-sided news, inaccurate news; both of those things are named as a very big problem by about half of the public. There’s also a number of other problems that people named; 35 percent said they disliked the uncivil discussions about the news on social media; 27 percent said that they’re concerned about harassment of journalists; 24 percent said they’re concerned about news organizations being banned, for example. So, I hope that the general public who are reading the study will see part of their own experience reflecting in the figures and be able to think about that more clearly.

 Samir Husni: Is there anything you’d like to add?

Elisa Shearer: It is interesting that we haven’t seen a lot of growth in social media news use from about 2016. The percent of news gotten in 2016 there often was 18 percent; 20 percent in 2017; 20 percent in 2018. And this year it increased to 28 percent, so 28 percent of Americans are getting their news from social media often. And 55 percent of Americans get news from social media often or sometimes. So, that’s a growth that we’ve seen in the past year.

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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One comment

  1. […] Yet “[i]t took years, hundreds of years in the case of print and ink on paper, before people were wary of the role newspapers, magazines, and even television play in delivering the news to their audience,” notes Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni. […]



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