People Relying on Social Media for Political, Election News Are Less Engaged, Less Knowledgeable

Pew Research Center analyzed the results of five survey conducted from last October through June

Just 48% of the social media group understood the Democratic presidential primaries nicoletaionescu/iStock

A total of 18% of adults in the U.S. most commonly get their political and election news from social platforms, and those people are less likely to closely follow major news stories and, by default, less likely to be knowledgeable about these topics, according to a new study from Pew Research Center.

Pew Research Center

The think tank analyzed five surveys conducted between October 2019 and June 2020 as part of the American News Pathways project, finding that the 18% relying on social networks for political and election news trail news website and applications (25%) but are roughly on par with the 16% each who get their news on those topics from cable television and local TV.

Pew found that the group relying on social media tended to be younger and less likely to be white, with lower levels of formal education and lower household incomes.

Only 8% of that group followed news about the 2020 presidential candidates very closely, compared with 37% of the group that cited cable TV as their primary source and 33% who turn to print news. Just 11% of those relying on local TV were following that type of news closely.

The social platforms group was also the least likely to be following news about the coronavirus pandemic very closely, at 23%, compared with 50% each for cable TV and national network TV, 44% for news websites and apps and 32% for local TV.

Just 48% of the social media group said they understood very well or somewhat well what was happening in the Democratic presidential primaries, and 49% said the same about the facts and events surrounding the impeachment proceedings. Pew said every other group expressed higher levels of confidence.

The think tank said that during the nine months of its study, respondents were asked 29 different fact-based questions on a variety of topics including economics, the impeachment of President Donald Trump and Covid-19. The average proportion answering each question correctly was lower for the social platforms group than for every other group except local TV.

The social media news consumers were most likely to report seeing made-up news related to the coronavirus pandemic, with 68% of that group saying they saw at least some misinformation. The totals were higher for those relying on news websites and apps (73%) and radio (72%).

Pew put a spotlight on the conspiracy theory that powerful people intentionally planned the pandemic, saying that 26% of the group relying on social networks had heard a lot about this theory, and 81% had heard at least a little, with both of those figures higher than any of the other groups.

Pew Research Center

Despite that, just 37% of the social platforms group said they were very concerned about the effects of made-up news on the 2020 election, lower than every other group except local TV (35%). In contrast, 58% of the cable TV group expressed concerns. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.