50% of U.S. Teens Are Getting Their News From YouTube, But Not From News Organizations

Common Sense and SurveyMonkey found that celebrities, influencers and personalities were their sources more often

Where is she getting her news from? bymuratdeniz/iStock

Teens getting the majority of their news online shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the days of reading a physical newspaper or settling in front of the television for the evening news have long passed. What does come as a surprise, however, is the online sources teens are turning to for their news.

Common Sense, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families, teamed up with SurveyMonkey on a poll of 1,005 U.S. teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17, conducted from June 14 through 25.

They found that 54% of respondents get news at least a few times per week from social networking platforms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, while one-half do so from YouTube.

Of those who cited YouTube, six out of 10 said they were more likely to get their news from celebrities, influencers and personalities than from news organizations.

Common Sense said in a release detailing its findings, “Teens’ news habits reflect the diversity of the modern media landscape. And, while most news organizations maintain accounts on social media and other platforms, they are competing for attention with corporate brands, celebrities, influencers and personal connections.”

Among teens who actually turn to news organizations for their news, 65% said it helps them better understand what is going on, while just 53% of those who get news from social media expressed the same sentiment, and 19% said getting news via social networks makes them more confused about current events.

With the 2020 presidential election looming, Common Sense and SurveyMonkey looked at respondents 16 and older who will be eligible to vote, finding that 85% are likely to do so and 61% very likely.

Other findings by Common Sense and SurveyMonkey included:

  • 78% of respondents said following current events was important to them.
  • Just 41% get news from news organizations (print or online) at least a few times per week, and only 37% do so from TV.
  • Among respondents who turn to YouTube for news, one-half said they most often find news because it was recommended by the Google-owned video site, such as via “watch next” videos or on its sidebar.
  • 27% of teens who get their news via YouTube subscribe to specific channels for news, while just 10% find news on the video site via search and only 7% find it because it was shared by someone they know in real life.
  • 71% of teens who consume news daily via YouTube get that news from celebrities, influencers and personalities, compared with just 28% from news organizations.
  • Why YouTube? 64% of respondents said “seeing pictures and video showing what happened” helped them to understand major news events, while 36% said they preferred to read or hear the facts about what happened.
  • 45% of teens said they get news from sources with different political views than their own at least once per week, while 14% never do so.
  • 35% of respondents discuss political issues with people who have different views at least once per week, while 19% never do so.

Common Sense CEO James Steyer said in the release, “These findings raise concerns about what kind of news the next generation is using to shape their decisions. There are few standards for what constitutes news and how accurately it’s portrayed on the platforms teens use. With the 2020 election coming up, we need to make sure teens are getting their news from reliable sources, thinking critically and making informed decisions.”

SurveyMonkey chief research officer Jon Cohen added, “While it’s notable that teens rely heavily on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to stay informed, their reliance on news from celebrities and influencers rather than journalists may have pernicious implications. It’s a bit of a paradox: Overwhelmingly, teens say that they are interested in keeping up with the news, but they’re not seeking out either traditional or new media to do so.”

david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.