September 24, 2014

How social media is reshaping news

The ever-growing digital native news world now boasts about 5,000 digital news sector jobs, according to our recent calculations, 3,000 of which are at 30 big digital-only news outlets. Many of these digital organizations emphasize the importance of social media in storytelling and engaging their audiences. As journalists gather for the annual Online News Association conference, here are answers to five questions about social media and the news.

1 How do social media sites stack up on news? When you take into account both the total reach of a site (the share of Americans who use it) and the proportion of users who get news on the site, Facebook is the obvious news powerhouse among the social media sites. Roughly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults use the site, and half of those users get news there — amounting to 30% of the general population.

YouTube is the next biggest social news pathway — about half of Americans use the site, and a fifth of them get news there, which translates to 10% of the adult population and puts the site on par with Twitter. Twitter reaches 16% of Americans and half of those users say they get news there, or 8% of Americans. And although only 3% of the U.S. population use reddit, for those that do, getting news there is a major draw–62% have gotten news from the site.

2 How do social media users participate in news? Half of social network site users have shared news stories, images or videos , and nearly as many  (46%) have discussed a news issue or event. In addition to sharing news on social media, a small number are also covering the news themselves, by posting photos or videos of news events. Pew Research found that in 2014, 14% of social media users posted their own photos of news events to a social networking site, while 12% had posted videos. This practice has played a role in a number of recent breaking news events, including the riots in Ferguson, Mo.

Social Media and News

3 How do social media users discover news? Facebook is an important source of website referrals for many news outlets, but the users who arrive via Facebook spend far less time and consume far fewer pages than those who arrive directly. The same is true of users arriving by search. Our analysis of comScore data found visitors who go to a news media website directly spend roughly three times as long as those who wind up there through search or Facebook, and they view roughly five times as many pages per month. This higher level of engagement from direct visitors is evident whether a site’s traffic is driven by search or social sharing and it has big implications for news organizations who are experimenting with digital subscriptions while endeavoring to build a loyal audience.

4 What’s the news experience like on Facebook? Our study of news consumption on Facebook found Facebook users are experiencing a relatively diverse array of news stories on the site — roughly half of Facebook users regularly see six different topic areas. The most common news people see is entertainment news: 73% of Facebook users regularly see this kind of content on the site. Unlike Twitter, where a core function is the distribution of information as news breaks, Facebook is not yet a place many turn to for learning about breaking news. (Though the company may be trying to change that by tweaking its algorithm to make the posts appearing in newsfeed more timely.) Still, just 28% of Facebook news consumers ever use the site to keep up with a news event as it unfolds, less than half of those users would turn to Facebook first to follow breaking news.

5 How does social media impact the discussion of news events? Our recent survey revealed social media doesn’t always facilitate conversation around the important issues of the day. In fact, we found people were less willing to discuss their opinion on the Snowden-NSA story on social media than they were in person. And Facebook and Twitter users were less likely to want to share their opinions in many face-to-face settings, especially if they felt their social audience disagreed with them.

  1. Photo of Monica Anderson

    is a research associate focusing on internet, science and technology at Pew Research Center.

  2. Photo of Andrea Caumont

    is the social media editor at Pew Research Center.


  1. Taryn Van Deusen1 year ago

    Great article

  2. Mack2 years ago

    interesting that many people get their current news from Facebook. I’m boggled by this!

  3. NITISH MEHROTRA2 years ago

    Great information is present helps me to expand and acknoledge

  4. Veronica2 years ago

    Great information. As a Canadian, I am curious to know how Canada compares. Is there any available research on our perspectives?

  5. Nwafor Sylvanus2 years ago

    Working around social media could be very demanding for business these days but with a good post like this, it becomes clearer and easier. Thanks Cass for sharing

  6. hello2 years ago

    among children twitter is more popular and maybe you should have included something about children and not just adults

  7. Sarah2 years ago

    Social media provides us with a vehicle for creating connections with people we would not otherwise interact with. In theory, the broader range of connections we experience because of social media should make us more informed citizens of the world. However, this study shows that while we are exposed to more information each day because of social media venues such as Facebook and Twitter, we may not necessarily be more informed about critical issues occurring in the world. The article draws attention to the fact that the of all of the news and information social media users encounter 73% of that information is comprised of news that is entertainment related. While entertainment news is a good thing, the question becomes are we balancing this type of news exposure with exposure to news that is pertinent to world events? Are we being entirely closed in on ourselves and our personal world or are we making an effort to step outside of ourselves and become informed about the world at large? There are roughly 7 billion citizens of planet earth and at our fingertips is the ability to connect with and learn about any number of them. The possibilities are seemingly endless. We have so many resources to become cultured and informed citizens of the world. So the question becomes are we fully utilizing everything available to us?

  8. doğuhan murat yücel3 years ago

    Gramsci thougt that meaning of the state power is “ability to shape the world of ideas” We should ask here: What US. does with its world power, what thouhts has it shaped? We can connect the uprisings in in the opposing states with this idea. So called Arabian spring was a product of social media. That’s how US shapes the world idea, exploiting the oil riches.

  9. Glenn3 years ago

    Wrong! Facebook users don’t get news. They read and react to the predigested and often disingenuous summaries and misleading link titles. If a linked article has 20 items, they only react to the one pictured. You can scroll through 50 comments before seeing one indicating that the person read any part of the linked information. Comments calling out people for not reading it don’t get likes.

    What PEW failed to look at are all those whose news consists of only what is presented by Facebook itself. All they encounter and take in are the teasers. And unscrupulous providers know this.

  10. Daniel Shawen3 years ago

    I’m not a user of either Facebook or Twitter.

    I would not rely on factual or complete accounts of news based on anything reported from sources like these, even from eyewitnesses, who may or may not have their own motivations and viewpoints on events, whether they will admit to them or not.

    Imagine getting news about middle East issues presented only by Jihadists, because somehow they’ve managed to manipulate social media, or information about enforcement against narcotics traffickers or hijackings from members of drug cartels or pirates.

    No thanks again, Facebook.

  11. Clodoaldo Alves3 years ago

    Heppy to havê You stay friend! 🙂

  12. Ola Agbaimoni3 years ago

    Very interesting analysis. I wonder if the data for Facebook has changed given their recent changes to how they are showing people information. It’s not surprising that most people are looking for entertainment news – Facebook is primarily a place to be entertained. Also no surprises that people are reluctant to engage in controversial discussions – it is harder to ensure that others/friends don’t misunderstand the tone of what you write -plus the issue with trolls mentioned by Paul.

    It would have bee interesting to see some data on who people’s views on the news are influenced by the comments they read on social media

  13. Arron Daniels3 years ago

    Good food for thought. I wonder how much of this data is skewed due to users interacting with API’s and “auto play” videos? Does it count? There is no doubt about news consumption via social media, but there is a good point about how long viewers engage with the content (towards the bottom of the article) 3X as much if they visit the site directly. Is it quick consumption or just a skewed number? Good piece, thank you.

  14. Rod3 years ago

    Say what they will but I get my news from a variety of sources and none what so ever from Face Book or Twitter because I will not sign up for any of them due to their or lack of privacy. Also there are too many people on them trolling what’s said to create an issue or ruin someone’s life because of what they said. No fee speech allowed. I get my news from everywhere from newspapers ton alternative news websites to the regular six o’clock news and read between the lines to get at the truth about what’s going on in the world.

  15. joslyn3 years ago

    I get Pew reports by email, as well as news from some other news sources – directly to me. I have also clicked ‘like’ on Pew Facebook page, as well as some other news source sites too. I treat Facebook as an aggregator, and skim it (which is where I picked up this report) but I will also check certain news sources directly, or get email alerts from them. I’m not sure how you’d count me. I do like being able to see news sources, as well as personal interests, like art, from all over the world and from different perspectives, and no longer be locked into 1 huge print newspaper, or a few tv channels or magazines. From a consumers point of view, this is better. From a labor point of view, it might be a lot tougher through the transition until pay problems can be figured out and stabilized.

  16. Mark3 years ago

    > Half of social network site users have shared news stories, images or vidoes,
    > and nearly as many (46%) have discussed a news issue or event.

    I wish they could have discussed what they mean by “discussed.” Does “LOL” mean it was discussed? How about, “Wow, that was amazing!” And forwarding a picture of something is hardly “sharing news” in my book, nor is posting a picture of a fender-bender “covering” news.

  17. Todd Bailey3 years ago

    Interesting and accurate to my consumption of new. For me, I go to Yahoo as my News source (what ever the source isn’t the point) and I find myself there to digest full news content.

    Twitter, just a headline and breaking news piece and Facebook really not much at all. Great detail in your article Monica and Andrea.

  18. The Future is Coming3 years ago

    I think people should not go on social media. Soon enough the government will steal all of our information from the devices we rely on and we will be screwed. We should have more classes that are based on hunting and fire making skills so when all of our technology crashes, we will be able to survive.

  19. ana3 years ago

    The surveillance question is totally leading. I’m surprised PEW would ask such a poorly structured question.
    Honestly, I don’t see anything new in this report. It would be far more interesting to find out what these respondents consider “news” to be.

    1. blazermolly3 years ago


  20. Chas3 years ago

    I do not discuss politics on Facebook. I use Facebook to keep in touch with family members living in other states and former coworkers at my previous place of employment as I am now retired. I find that discussing politics only alienates people and that’s not my purpose on Facebook.

  21. Paul Sweeting3 years ago

    I wonder if people are less willing to discuss hot-button issues like Snowden-NSA in on social media than in person because they know what sort of abuse they could be subject to in online replies.