Pew: Facebook, Twitter Major Sources for News, Current Events

About 63% of Facebook and Twitter users say that they use those social media platforms as a major source for news about events and issues not involving friends and family, according to a survey released today (July 14) by the Pew Research Center in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The current news-related usage on social media is up from barely 50% two years ago.

Pew's study, The Evolving Role of News on Twitter and Facebook, examines how Twitter and Facebook users rely on various news outlets. It found that Twitter users are far more likely than Facebook devotees (46% versus 28%) to follow news organizations, reporters or commentators. and a little more likely (30% versus 23%) to follow political parties or candidates. (The study didn't delve into the ways in which Facebook and Twitter users initiate their social media news connections -- that is, the original source for stories via TV, newspaper, websites or other media. A Pew official said that "some intensive research" would focus on that topic later this year.)

“The sizeable increase in news consumption on Twitter and Facebook since 2013 corresponds with new initiatives and features both platforms have introduced to promote access and engagement with media content,” said Jon Sotsky, Knight Foundation director for strategy and assessment. “Exploring how news consumption through social media can shape how people interact with, respond and react to the news will be critical for news providers and others interested in advancing the real-world impact of journalism.”

Overall, the Pew survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults found that both Twitter and Facebook have the same portion of users who get news on those platforms; but found significant differences in the platforms' potential news distribution strengths. Twitter is used more than Facebook for breaking news; nearly six in 10 Twitter news users (59%) say they follow Twitter to keep up with a news event as it is happening, almost double the 31% of Facebook users who say they do so on that platform.  

“As social networking sites recognize and adapt to their role in the news environment, each will offer unique features," said Amy Mitchell, Pew Research Center’s Director of Journalism Research. "These different ways of connecting with news have implications for how Americans learn about the world and their communities, and for how they take part in the democratic process,”

The survey's data show younger users are more likely to get news via Facebook, but that overall reliance on social media cuts across nearly all demographic groups measured. The use of Twitter as a news source, for example, grew since 2013 among both users under 35 (55% to 67%) and those 35 and older (47% to 59%); on Facebook, news use grew among both men (from 44% to 61%) and women (from 49% to 65%).

The analysis suggests that different habits and topics are more suited to different platforms. When it comes to news and information about government and politics, Facebook users are more likely than Twitter users to post and respond to content. About a third (32%) of Facebook users say they post about government and politics on Facebook, and 28% comment on these types of posts. In comparison, 25% of Twitter users tweet about this news topic, and 13% reply to tweets on this topic posted by others.

Twitter and Facebook users report seeing news about seven of 11 topics asked about in the survey at roughly the same rates: people and events in your community, local weather and traffic, entertainment, crime, local government, science and technology, and health and medicine. Four remaining topics were seen at higher rates on Twitter: national government and politics (72% vs. 61%), international affairs (63% vs. 51%), business (55% vs. 42%) and sports (70% vs. 55%).

Among women, Facebook users are more likely to regularly see posts about health, entertainment, and people and events in their communities, Pew found, while Twitter users are more likely to read posts about weather, entertainment, crime and health.

Gary Arlen

Contributor Gary Arlen is known for his insights into the convergence of media, telecom, content and technology. Gary was founder/editor/publisher of Interactivity Report, TeleServices Report and other influential newsletters; he was the longtime “curmudgeon” columnist for Multichannel News as well as a regular contributor to AdMap, Washington Technology and Telecommunications Reports. He writes regularly about trends and media/marketing for the Consumer Technology Association's i3 magazine plus several blogs. Gary has taught media-focused courses on the adjunct faculties at George Mason University and American University and has guest-lectured at MIT, Harvard, UCLA, University of Southern California and Northwestern University and at countless media, marketing and technology industry events. As President of Arlen Communications LLC, he has provided analyses about the development of applications and services for entertainment, marketing and e-commerce.