Digital News Report: Only 24% think social media separates fact from fiction well

Ben Matthews

By Ben Matthews

In Blog, Empower Life, Moments

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As marketers we rely on the trust of our audiences, but how can we really communicate our message effectively if they have lost confidence in one of our most important channels?

This year’s Digital News Report, conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and University of Oxford, was published yesterday and the findings are significant for any UK brand with a presence on social media (UK findings can be found here).

The report’s insights are based on a YouGov survey of over 70,000 online news consumers in 36 countries including the US and UK. It’s not hard to understand why researchers this year chose to focus on the issues of trust in the era of fake news, changing business models and the role of platforms.

We’ve read the whole thing and put together some of the highlights, so you don’t have to.

The big age gap

Instinctively, most of us will know that our social media audiences are younger, especially on platforms like Instagram, Snapchat or Youtube. Worth a reminder though that a not insignificant 28% of over 55s get their news from social platforms too.

Sources of news by age

Social Media

  • More than half of all online users across the 36 countries (54%) say they use social media as a source of news each week
  • This ranges from 76% in Chile to 29% in Japan and Germany.
  • More than one in ten (14%) now say social media is their main source
  • Only a quarter (24%) of respondents think social media does a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for the news media.
  • Qualitative data suggest that users feel the combination of a lack of rules and viral algorithms are encouraging low quality and ‘fake news’ to spread quickly

With habits varying so widely from country to country, it’s worth checking what you can expect from your target audience more closely. Read more about the report’s findings on how we consume news via social media.

Top social networks and messaging applications

Ad Blocking

  • Ad blocking has stopped growing and is still largely confined to desktop.
  • Across all countries 24% use them regularly, 7% on mobile.
  • Almost half (43%) of those had agreed to temporarily turn off
 their ad-blocker for particular news sites in the last year.
  • 32% of respondents said they checked the news on the loo.

Have you considered your target audience might be blocking your paid campaigns? Get more detail on who is using what, and when by skipping to page 26 in the report.

Paying for news

  • There has been a surge in the numbers prepared to pay for online news in the United States, growing from 9% to 16% along with a tripling of news donations.
  • Most of the new payments have come from the young (under 35 year-olds) and those on the political left with almost a third saying they want to ‘help fund journalism’

Anecdotally we’ve heard a lot about a return to a more traditional approach to journalism as a backlash to ‘fake news’. I was interested to see how this has played out in the stats.

Popular locations for using smartphones for news

News consumption around the world

  • In most countries, researchers found a strong connection between distrust in the media and perceived political bias.
  • Almost a third of their sample (29%) say they often or sometimes avoid the news. For many, this is because it can have a negative effect on mood. For others, it is because they can’t rely on news to be true.
  • Overall around a quarter (23%) of our respondents now find, share, or discuss news using one or more messaging applications. (Although this is much lower in the UK because there’s not as much of a need for encrypted discussions).
  • Users of search, social media, and online aggregation services are significantly more likely to see sources they would not normally use

News consumption in the UK

  • People in the UK are more likely to go directly to a website or app for their news rather than use aggregators/social media.
  • Social media continues to be a growing source of news in the UK, with 41% listig social media as a source of news used in the last week (see more social media stats here).
  • Polarised news sites such as left-leaning the Canary (2%) and alt-right Breitbart (2%) have started to pick up (some) traction in the UK on the back of increased social media use.
  • Figures here for % of weekly usage of different brands including the BBC, The Daily Mail and The Guardian.
  • 70% of BBC News users said it was best for accuracy, and 63% said it was best for understanding complex issues (disclaimer: I’m not sure exactly how this question was asked – it’s not clear)
  • Under 35 year olds are particularly distrustful of the news vs 43% overall.

New news platforms

  • In a related development there has been a significant growth in mobile news aggregators, notably Apple News, but also Snapchat Discover for younger audiences. Both have doubled usage with their target groups in the last year.
  • Voice-activated digital assistants like the Amazon Echo are emerging as a new platform for news, already outstripping smartwatches in the US, UK, and Germany

Time to panic?

We’re not worried. Trying to understand the hows and whys of the constant evolution of online media is what we love about it. With reports like this to give us that headstart in understanding our user’s behaviour, we won’t be binning our Twitter accounts just yet.

Getting heard above the noise (fake or real) is what Empower are best at, so if you need someone to help you plan an effective digital marketing campaign get in touch.

Download the full report at


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