Quarter of US Adults Get News From YouTube, Study Finds

A YouTube sign is shown across the street from the company’s offices in San Bruno, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

(CN) — Just over one-fourth of American adults are turning to YouTube to get their news from both big media organizations and independent producers, according to a Pew Research Center study released Monday.

Researchers surveyed over 12,600 U.S. adults in January after analyzing 377 popular news-producing YouTube channels. They found that 26% of all respondents said they get news on the Google-owned video-sharing platform. Of those people, 72% said YouTube is an important way for them to access information on current events.  

Established news organizations and independent outlets made up 49% and 42% of the YouTube channels analyzed in the study, respectively. Both kinds of content are equally popular, with 23% of YouTube news consumers saying they watch each type of channel often.

Galen Stocking, one of the study’s lead authors, noted that the rise of independent news channels is not having a negative impact on the major news organizations that people would normally watch on television.

“We found something unique about the YouTube news landscape: both news organization channels and independent channels thrive on YouTube – and independent channels actually play a larger role in the YouTube news ecosystem than other social media platforms we’ve studied,” Stocking said in an email.

Of those getting their news from YouTube, one-third said that misinformation is a moderately big problem and 30% say it is a very big problem.

Democratic viewers were more likely to say misinformation is a very big problem (34%) than Republicans (24%). Republican respondents tended to be more concerned with censorship on YouTube, with 38% of them saying it is a major problem compared to just 22% of Democrats.

Among all YouTube news consumers, 28% said political bias is a very big problem and 31% said it is a moderately big problem.

But despite concern over misinformation, censorship and bias, 48% of those who get their news from YouTube said they use the video-sharing site to seek out information and facts, compared to 51% who said they are looking for opinion and social commentary.

The study released Monday also found independent channels are more likely to discuss conspiracy theories on topics such as QAnon, the deep state and opposition to vaccines, with 21% of those channels at least mentioning the conspiracy theories and 14% being primarily focused on them.

Stocking said that being able to find videos that talk about conspiracies is part of what many viewers like about YouTube.

“While we do not have data on whether YouTube news consumers are intentionally seeking out information about conspiracy theories, we did ask YouTube news consumers what they find unique about getting news on the platform,” Stocking wrote. “More than half said ‘the content they get there’ makes YouTube unique, with about one-in-five saying ‘the non-mainstream information that is available’ there makes it unique.”

Politics were a big part of the YouTube channels analyzed in the study. Last December, 36% of the videos posted on those channels were related to President Donald Trump’s impeachment. Another 31% were related to policy issues like gun control, abortion and immigration, while 12% pertained to the 2020 election.

Though political videos are popular on YouTube, only about 12% of the top 100 news channels include a specific political ideology in their channel description, including 8% that identified as right-leaning and 4% as left-leaning. 

While the overall impact of one-fourth of Americans getting their news from YouTube is unclear ahead of the 2020 election, another Pew study from July found that those who mainly get their news from social media are less engaged and less knowledgeable about politics.

Monday’s study found that most YouTube news consumers (61%) are not particularly loyal to any channel or person, with 78% saying they instead rely on YouTube’s algorithm to recommend them videos to watch.

YouTube news viewers are most likely to be young and male, with 58% of those in the survey being male and 34% under the age of 30.

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