Fewer Americans are getting news from social media, particularly Facebook, according to a new study from Pew Research.
Perhaps all the scrutiny of Facebook missteps and failures to check misinformation is making a difference.
Or maybe Facebook is experiencing the same decline in news consumption that traditional media are seeing, now that there’s a less outrageous occupant of the White House.
In the Pew survey conducted this summer, 48% of Americans said they get news from social media often or sometimes. That’s down 5% from 2020.
Breaking it down, 31% of Facebook users said they regularly get news there, compared to 22% of YouTube users and 13% of Twitter users.
This survey doesn’t get into the question of where all that news reporting originated. The bulk of reporting is done by newspapers, despite the industry’s contraction, a 2019 study by Duke University researchers found.
Pew explored this in another survey last December. It found that many Americans don’t know whether online sites posting stories do their own reporting. A shockingly large percentage don’t realize Facebook and Google News don’t do original reporting (but profit richly from others’ work).
Among avid news readers, just 56% correctly said Facebook does not do original reporting and 36% knew this about Google News, Pew found. Among those who place less importance on news, only 47% said Facebook doesn’t actually report news and only 27% knew this about Google.
Clearly there’s work to be done to better help Americans understand who produces news stories and what’s original reporting. This is needed not just to save local newspapers, but to sustain democracy, overcome societal divides and strengthen communities, all of which depend on an informed public and trusted information.
This comes as Congress considers stronger rules to address unfair and anti-competitive business practices of Facebook and other dominant platforms.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, turned up the heat on Tuesday.
During a hearing on “big data” with representatives of Facebook and Google, she renewed calls for more enforcement of existing regulations, modernization of antitrust laws and more funding of regulators.
Klobuchar described how tech companies profit from data gathered about users of their free services, and how users may not realize how these platforms exploit users’ personal information.
The hearing followed a week of blockbuster exposés on Facebook problems.
That included a Wall Street Journal series based on leaked files showing that Facebook bent rules for elite users, and despite denials, has known for years that its Instagram subsidiary is harmful to many users, particularly teen girls.
Facebook pushed back, with a spokesman denying findings in the series. The company last month launched a more assertive public-relations strategy, according to a Tuesday report by The New York Times.
Separately, MIT Technology Review used another batch of leaked Facebook files to report that bad actors were continuing to spread propaganda and other misinformation leading into the 2020 election.
Bad actors’ content was reaching 140 million U.S. users per month in 2019, despite Facebook’s efforts to crack down after the 2016 election, the report said.
All the revelations and outrage aren’t putting much of a crimp in Facebook’s business. It reported that revenue grew 56% and net profit grew 101%, to $10.4 billion, during the quarter ending June 30.
During that same quarter, Facebook saw a 7% increase in daily and monthly active users.
Just not for news, apparently.
Editor’s note: This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for the Free Press newsletter. Subscribe at st.news/FreePressNewsletter.