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State of digital news

News via social media gains ground but trust deficit becomes wider

Digitalisation has created a tremendous impact on the news industry. In the past, the vast majority were reliant on news channels and newspapers for their daily dose of news. But with the advent of fast internet, coupled with cheap smartphones, many can now access breaking news digitally.

News is also being published and shared at a much faster rate, thanks to the seemingly infinite demand for fresh content and updates. As a result, amateur or informal “news” sources have mushroomed across Youtube, Tiktok and Facebook, and a fair number of these content creators have earned a wide and dedicated following. But the emergence of unverified news on many of these new “channels” has also given way to fake news and misinformation.

Nowadays, digital viewers are more inclined to watch and share viral news via their preferred social media platforms without feeling the urge to first verify it. Misinformation has since proven extraordinarily problematic in its reach, going so far as to influence election results globally, sow polarisation and extreme partisanship, and subvert political discourse in favour of falsehood.

The recently published Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023 lends a clue to why people consume the news that they do—whether or not they are credible. The report reveals that the new generation of news consumers prefer news that is more appealing and personalised to them and is available to them beyond the legacy platforms.

News via social channels

More and more people across the world are preferring to access online news via social media channels. The percentage of people who get their online news through social media has grown over the years than those who access it directly through news websites/apps.

Exhibit 1: Proportion that say each is their main way of getting news online (2018-2023) – all markets

Preference to social media channels is also changing. Facebook usage for any purpose (57%) is down 8pp since 2017. Instagram (+2pp), TikTok (+3pp), and Telegram (+5pp) are the only networks to have grown in the last year, with much of this coming from younger groups. TikTok has overtaken Twitter and Snapchat and now has a similar reach as that of Facebook.

Influencers rule

Preferences also vary when it comes to news sources among different social networks. Mainstream journalists often lead conversations around news in Twitter and Facebook, while personalities, influencers and ordinary people become more prominent when it comes to conversation around news in social networks such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat.

Exhibit 2: Proportion that pay attention to each source for news (by social network) – all markets

Video consumption grows

Preference towards consuming and watching online news via video formats is growing exponentially. Across all markets, almost two-thirds (62%) consumed video via social media and just 28% when browsing a news website or app.

Exhibit 3: Proportion that watched online news video on each in the last week – all markets

Scepticism towards algorithms

Scepticism towards algorithm is also growing. People now are less happy when they are shown news based on what they have consumed in the past or what their friends have consumed or even news selected by their preferred journalists. Younger audiences are significantly dissatisfied with content-based algorithms.

Exhibit 4: Proportion that agree that each is a good way to get news – average of selected countries

Misinformation and disinformation

Public fears still abound when it comes to trusting news on the internet. It is a good signal considering the destructive impact of fake news on the socio-political landscape. The survey finds that on an average, 56% of people across all markets are concerned about what is real and what is fake when it comes to news on the internet.

Exhibit 5: Proportion concerned about what is real and what is fake on the internet when it comes to news – selected regions

Trust in the news

Trust in overall news is down, signalling trouble for traditional media outlets who now have to compete more seriously with “alternative” news sources. Across Asia-Pacific, somewhat higher trust in news is only visible in Thailand. Meanwhile, trust deficit is quite visible in India.

Exhibit 6: Proportion that trust most news most of the time – Asia-Pacific

Moving forward

In the short-term, growth in online news subscriptions will be severely challenged by the combined impact of rising costs and falling revenues. In addition to this, increasingly unpredictable traffic from social networks like Facebook and Twitter will also play a role.

Meanwhile, in the long run, changing behavioural demands from younger audiences will constitute significant shifts with more preference towards informal entertaining news formats being delivered by influencers rather than journalists, and being consumed within platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. These elements point to a future that will challenge traditional media to find creative ways for deploying news that is both accurate and verifiable, and compete ably with a growing pool of influencers skilled at capturing the imagination of the viewing public.

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