The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released its 2018 Digital News Report with results that stunned many: after years of growth, the use of social media for news is falling across the world.
The researchers write, "For the last seven years we have tracked the key sources for news across major countries and have reported a picture of relentless growth in the use of social media for news. Now, in many countries, growth has stopped or gone into reverse.”
More specifically, the use of Facebook for news has stopped or gone in reverse.
In the U.S., "39 percent of people said they used Facebook as a source of news in 2018, down 9 percentage points from 2017. And if you look just at young people in the U.S., their use of Facebook for news is down by 20 percent compared to 2017," Nieman Lab states in its coverage of the report.
The research is based on surveys of more than 74,000 people in 37 countries about their digital news consumption. It should be noted that the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism conducted most of its research prior to Facebook's News Feed algorithm changes, which rolled out in January 2018.
While Facebook is down, researchers said the use of "alternative platforms like WhatsApp, Instagram, and Snapchat are increasing."
"The researchers suggest that people feel more comfortable moving their discussions to closed messaging apps like WhatsApp (whose use for news across countries has almost tripled since 2014 — though, in the U.S., only four percent of respondents said they get news from it)," Nieman Lab reports.
Why is the use of messaging apps on the rise? For many who were surveyed, it feels more private.
“Somehow WhatsApp feels a lot more private. Like it’s kind of a hybrid between texting and social media. Whereas in Facebook, for some reason it just feels like it’s public. Even if you’re in Messenger," one respondent - a U.S. woman in the 20- to 29-year-old range - said.
"The whole thing about social media is like wearing a mask. So when I am in my messaging groups with my friends the mask comes off and I feel like I can truly be myself," another respondent - a U.K. man in the 30- to 45-year-old range - said.
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Overlap exists, though, and often the source of what's being discussed on messaging apps is actually Facebook. But, while the news may be found there, it's shared and discussed elsewhere.
"The source is still Facebook because when we’re going to share something on WhatsApp, usually the article we’ve found it on Facebook. So Facebook is still king in that sense," a 20-29 male U.S. respondent pointed out.
"If these trends towards messaging apps are strengthened, it could create new dilemmas for publishers around being able to engage with ordinary citizens," Reuters Institute Research Fellow Antonis Kalogeropoulos writes. "The shift to messaging apps is partly driven by a desire for greater privacy, so pushing news into these spaces needs to be more organic and more conversational if it is to be accepted."