STUDY: Facebook Users Aren’t Necessarily Looking For News, But They Find And Consume It

By David Cohen 

NewsOnTabletWithCoffeeThe average Facebook user does not come to the social network in search of news, but he or she usually winds up discovering news anyway, as a new study from Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, found that of the 64 percent of U.S. adults who are Facebook users, 47 percent of that group “ever” gets news from the social network, leading Pew to call 30 percent of U.S. adults “Facebook news consumers.”

Pew added that 78 percent of its group of Facebook news consumers gets news on the social network while they are there for other purposes, such as catching up with friends or sharing photos.

Other findings by Pew and the Knight Foundation from their online survey of 5,173 U.S. adults included:

  • The average Facebook news consumer is 39 years old, and 34 percent of the group fall between the ages of 18 and 29.
  • 53 percent of Facebook news consumers said their primary devices for accessing Facebook are desktops or laptops, versus 46 percent who do so on mobile devices.
  • 42 percent of Facebook news consumers also watch local news on television, and 23 percent watch cable news channels, while just 21 percent read print newspapers.
  • 67 percent of Facebook users who spend at least one hour per day on the social network discover news, versus just 41 percent of those who devote less than one hour daily to Facebook.
  • 49 percent of Facebook news consumers said they regularly get news on six or more different topics, with entertainment leading at 73 percent, followed by community events (65 percent), sports (57 percent), and national politics and government (55 percent).
  • Only 28 percent of Facebook news consumers have specifically gone to the social network due to breaking news.
  • 64 percent of Facebook news consumers said they sometimes click on news links, and 60 percent said they sometimes like or comment on stories. 43 percent post or share links themselves, while 32 percent discuss issues with other Facebook users.
  • 70 percent of respondents said they click on news links due to interest in the topic, while 51 percent said they do so because stories are entertaining, and 50 percent because stories are surprising. Only 20 percent said they click on links because they came from news organizations that they prefer, and just 13 percent were influenced by the number of likes a post attracted.
  • 34 percent of Facebook news consumers like news organizations and see their stories in their News Feeds. That group is more likely to see Facebook as an important way to get news than those who have not liked news organizations (54 percent versus 38 percent), and nearly three times more likely to click on news links (27 percent versus 11 percent) and to discuss news with other Facebook users (11 percent to 4 percent). They are also about twice as likely to post or share stories (16 percent to 7 percent) and to like or comment on stories (29 percent to 15 percent).
  • Only 31 percent of Facebook news consumers said they preferred news that shared their point of view, while 32 percent said they feel annoyed when other Facebook users post political statements (compared with 14 percent of U.S. adults overall). 58 percent said they have been surprised by opinions on news events from friends or family members.

Facebook has taken steps to enhance media organizations’ use of the social network, introducing two application-programming interfaces tailored for the media industry in September — the public feed API, which displays a real-time feed of public posts for a specific word; and the keyword insights API, which tallies the total number of posts that mention a specific term during a specific time period, as well as enabling news organization to feature anonymous, aggregated results based on gender, age, and location — and announcing the test Monday of a Stories to Share feature for news organizations’ Facebook pages.

In addition, for television specifically, Facebook announced in late September that it would begin sending weekly reports to the “Big Four” television networks — ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC — and a “small number of select partners,” detailing the number of actions (likes, comments, and shares) generated by specific episodes, as well as how many Facebook users were responsible for those actions, and earlier this month, that initiative was extended to 10 networks in eight overseas countries.

Pew Research Center Director of Journalism Research Amy Mitchell said of the study:

People go to Facebook to share personal moments and they discover the news almost incidentally. The serendipitous nature of news on Facebook may actually increase its importance as a source of news and information, especially among those who do not follow the news closely.

Knight Foundation Vice President for Strategy and Assessment Mayur Patel added:

This study adds to our understanding of the way social media is transforming how news is shared and consumed. The implications for media organizations are significant. Through the data, they can gain insights on the behavior and preferences of the people they are trying to reach, and identify new engagement opportunities.

Readers: How did the findings by Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation compare with how you consume news on Facebook?

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