Reader Anxiety Up as News Intake on Social Media Surges

(CN) — As the number of Americans who get their news from social media grows, their concerns about what that means for political diversity are also on the rise, the Pew Research Center reported Wednesday. 

After surveying 5,107 U.S. adults for two weeks in July, Pew found that Americans are nearly unanimous in recognizing that social media has at least some control over the news people see. For 62%, that control is too much.  

Politically speaking, 75% of Republicans, or Republican leaning, said that social media has too much control over the news, compared against 53% of Democrats and Democratic leaning. 

Further, 73% of conservative Republicans said the news they see on social media tends to be more liberal. Only 37% of Democrats said the same. 

Overall, nearly half of Americans (48%) found news posts they see on social media as liberal or very liberal, where only 14% said the news posts are conservative or very conservative.  

Right up there with “fake news,” the study found that the one-sided news is one of the the biggest problems on social media for over half of Americans. 

Reflecting on the survey in an interview, Julie Smith, a communications and journalism instructor at Webster University, noted that the algorithms behind social media sites are built to display news stories based on the users’ interests, not on accuracy.

“The goal of these social media sites is not to relay accurate information but to hold our attention as long as possible,” Smith said in an email. “It is in their best interest to give us information that we like rather than what we need, so that we are conditioned to stay on the site longer.” 

Many social media companies have been vocal about efforts to combat so-called fake news, but the report shows that 55% of Americans say these efforts result in a worse mix of news. 

Smith added that the sites may not have been created to be news platforms, but that is what they have become. 

“And those that control these sites — those who affect the flow of public discourse in America — are unelected and unaccountable,” said Smith.  

Facebook reigns as America’s favorite social media site to get their news from, with over half (52%) of Americans getting their news from it. YouTube accounts for where 28% of Americans get their news, followed by Twitter at 17%.

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