The use of social media to consume news has started to fall, a report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism suggests.
Changes to Facebook’s algorithms that saw the platform give lower priority to news content in its users’ news feeds is the main reason for the decline, which comes after years of continuous growth, the Reuters Institute said.
Users are also worried about privacy, the “toxic nature of debates” and difficulties in distinguishing between real and fake news, the report’s authors said.
At the same time, there has been a rise in the usage of platforms such as Snapchat and Facebook-owned WhatsApp for news, particularly among younger groups.
The encrypted WhatsApp is used by 15 per cent for news (13 per cent in Ireland) and is particularly popular in countries such as Malaysia and Turkey where it can be dangerous to express political views in more open networks.
The report’s lead author Nic Newman said people were using Facebook and Twitter to find stories, but were then posting them to “more personal, private spaces” such as a WhatsApp group to discuss them.
Only 23 per cent of people trust news found on social media, significantly lower than the 34 per cent who trust news they find through search engines, 44 per cent for trust in news overall and 51 per cent for sources that people seek out themselves.
The findings are based on an online survey of 74,000 people in 37 countries including Ireland, conducted by polling company YouGov.
The report, the seventh annual such study by the University of Oxford-based institute, contains some positive findings for news organisations looking to build direct commercial relationships with consumers.
The number of people paying for online news has risen in a number of countries, with newer business models such as membership and donations beginning to gain traction.
Some 12 per cent of Irish people pay for online news, up from 7 per cent in 2015, which places Ireland in line with the EU average.
The Irish part of the study, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, also found that smartphones had overtaken laptops and other computers for news access for the first time, while the reach of television news and print was found to have fallen steadily over the last three years.
While some 84 per cent of people said they accessed news over the internet in the past week, just 68 per cent said the same for television news, down from 76 per cent in 2015.
The percentage reading print newspapers and news magazines has dropped to just 37 per cent, down from 50 per cent three years ago.
Irish consumers’ choice of radio as their main source of news is the highest of all 37 countries surveyed. Some 13 per cent of Irish respondents cited radio as their main source of news, compared with an EU average of 7 per cent and a US figure of 5 per cent, according to analysis by Dublin City University’s Institute for Future Media and Journalism (FuJo).
Podcasts were also more popular among news consumers in Ireland than with their counterparts in the Europe, the UK or US.
Irish consumers’ trust in news was higher than the average found in the overall study, clocking in at 54 per cent and recovering from a dip last year that may have been related to the “fake news” debate that was prominent in the wake of the US presidential election.
While 61 per cent of Irish consumers said they were very or extremely concerned about stories made up for political or commercial reasons, only 17 per cent recalled seeing this kind of disinformation.
RTÉ and the BBC were the most trusted news brands, closely followed by The Irish Times. The Irish Independent, TV3 News, the Irish Examiner, Sky News, Today FM and Newstalk comprised the rest of the 10 most trusted brands for news.
TheJournal.ie was the most commonly accessed online news source, while RTÉ television and radio news was the most used in the television, radio and print category.
The Reuters Institute report found that more than two-thirds of survey respondents were either unaware of the financial problems of the news industry or believed that most news organisations were making a profit from digital news. People who were aware that most digital newspapers are loss-making were more likely to pay for news.
“The report is both positive and negative for the news industry,” said FuJo director Jane Suiter.
“On the one hand, willingness to pay for online news is steadily increasing, on the other hand news consumers appear to have little understanding of how news is created or the role of the platforms and social media.”