Social-Media Set Show Lowest Knowledge of News Topics

President Donald Trump holds up a copy of the New York Post in the White House Oval Office on May 28 before signing an executive order aimed at curbing protections for social media giants. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CN) — Americans who get their news from social media are less informed and less engaged than those who use other outlets, the Pew Research Center found in Thursday study.

After collecting data from five different surveys taken by a range of 8,914 to 12,043 Americans from October 2019 to June 2020, Pew found only 8% of those who get their news from social media are following news about the 2020 presidential candidates “very closely.” Among those who use cable television as their news source, the figure is 37%.

The surveys included 29 fact-based questions regarding topics such as President Trump’s impeachment, Covid-19 and different political party views. Focusing on a set of nine questions, the study showed that 45% of those who get their news from a website are highly knowledgeable about politics — a stark contrast against social media users, where only 17% exhibited comprehensive knowledge on covered topics.

Local news watchers show to be most uneducated about politics, with only 10% being highly knowledgeable.

Education levels seem to also play a role in what outlet Americans use to get their news. For instance, 36% of social media users have a high school education or less. Similarly, 56% of local news viewers also have up to a high school education.

Nearly half those with a college degree use websites (47%) or print (49%).

Those on social media tend to have a lower income as well, with 35% having a family income of less than $30,000. Websites users (46%) have a family income of at least $75,000. 

With regard to the pandemic, those who take information from social media (26%) say they see a lot of conspiracies that Covid-19 was planned. While 17% of website and cable TV users say they see a lot of that same conspiracy. 

Further, only 23% of social media users say they are closely following the pandemic, compared with 50% of cable news viewers.

At 25%, websites proved the most popular medium by which Americans get their news. 

Only 3% of Americans older than 65 use social media for news, with 47% of the older crowd sticking to print. The set of those who get their news from social media amounts to 18% of adults surveyed. Of this group, nearly half (48%) are younger than 30.

“Age aside, we know from a 2018 Pew Research Center survey that when asked what they like about getting news on social media, social media news consumers’ most common responses were about convenience, speed, and it being up-to-date,” Pew research associate Elisa Shearer said in an interview.

Shearer noted that this report shows social media users are at least wise to false information being spread.  

“In terms of data we have on misinformation being spread, we do see in this report that social media news consumers are more aware of some false or unproven claims or storylines,” said Shearer. “For example, they are more aware of the unsubstantiated theory about a connection between 5G tech and the coronavirus.” 

Indeed the study found that 17% of social media users had heard a lot about the 5G conspiracy. 

Shearer also pressed that it is not only social media users feeding into the spread of false information through different news mediums. 

“But Americans who rely on social media for political news are not the only group to be more aware of some of these unproven storylines — for example, we took a deep look at who was more likely in March to believe that the virus was made (accidentally or intentionally) in a laboratory, and we found a number of factors were involved: younger adults, those with less education, Hispanic adults, and conservative Republicans were all more likely than others to say that this was true,” said Shearer. 

Though they may be aware of the false information, 37% of social media users are not concerned with the effects it may have on the 2020 elections, apart from the 58% of cable news watchers.  

Print news was most popular (78%) among white respondents, a set for whom it was also their favored medium. The leading news source for Hispanics was social media (21%) and for Blacks local TV (19%).

The Thursday study is part of Pew’s American News Pathways project that has been ongoing for the past nine months. 

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