Attentional shifts continue, social media dependency for news expands

By Dr. Merja Myllylahti

Auckland University of Technology (AUT)

Auckland, New Zealand


There are plenty of takeaways from the latest Reuters Digital News Report, which includes 46 markets. For me, one of the most troubling, and perhaps surprising, findings of the report is that social media is “not becoming less important for news distribution; it is actually becoming more important.”

Somehow, I have assumed that — because of direct engagement with audiences with newsletters, e-mails, podcasts, and other new products — direct traffic to news sites would be increasing.

However, the Reuters survey shows that, in 2018, 32% of those surveyed accessed news Web sites directly. In 2023, the figure was 22% — a decline of 10%. In 2018, 23% of those surveyed found news via social media; the same figure in 2023 was 30% — an increase of 7%.

This shift means it will be somewhat more challenging for news publishers to build platform resilience. As the report notes: “Our dependence on these intermediaries continues to grow.” This means the risks related to platform financing and distribution are not quickly solvable.

What is the “most striking” finding of the report is the rapid, further fragmentation of audiences consuming social media, and the audiences declining appetite for traditional social media networks such as Facebook. Younger audiences have moved to TikTok and other video-based networks.

The Reuters report finds usage of Instagram, TikTok, and Telegram has increased whereas Facebook usage for “any purpose” has decreased. According to the Reuters report, TikTok “reaches 44% of 18-24s across markets and 20% for news.”

Social media is one of the most common ways for younger readers to access news.
Social media is one of the most common ways for younger readers to access news.

On the other hand, Facebook has been pulling away from the news for some time, and perhaps this is contributing to the trend. The referral traffic to news publishers from Facebook has also been in decline, “hovering around 7% to 8% in early June 2023.”

Another study featured by INMA shows a similar trend but also that there is a disconnect between young people and news companies in terms of platform presence. While news publishers use mostly Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to engage with their audiences, young people use primarily YouTube, mobile apps, e-mail, and Instagram to engage with content.

What is concerning in the Reuters report is that young people “often pay more attention to influencers or celebrities than they do to journalists, even when it comes to news.” This means there is an uphill battle for journalists who are increasingly under attack online and offline. Often these attacks come from influencers and celebrities. The Reuters report notes that in the United Kingdom, “celebrities, comedians, and social media personalities rank as the primary source of exposure to news media criticism.”

There is nothing wrong with “media criticism” that keeps the media accountable, but sometimes the lines between criticism and hatred are blurred. I hope people who are influenced by influencers know the difference.

About Dr. Merja Myllylahti

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