Why are Millennials and Gen Z turning to Instagram as a news source? | Life and style
F.For many young people, clicking on Instagram to get the latest news is as natural today as it was generations before picking up a daily newspaper. For a website that has traditionally been a platform for sharing lifestyle content rather than hard news, this is a shift in Millennials and Gen Z, at a time when news updates seem more important than ever.
Recently released data examining how people accessed news and information about the coronavirus pandemic found over a quarter of respondents in the US for 18- to 24-year-olds (the age group most likely to use social media as a source) : Instagram to access news content within the past week, while 19% used Snapchat and 6% used TikTok. In comparison, only 17% used newspapers to access information. Worldwide, the numbers reached even higher values - in Germany, 38% of 18- to 24-year-olds used Instagram to access the news, in Argentina even 49%.
This trend is not necessarily harmless. “The challenge with Instagram is that it’s a very visual space,” says Jennifer Grygiel, who communicates at Syracuse University teaches them to deal with. “
Making social media a source of news is made difficult by the fact that anyone can act as a reporter, raising concerns about fact-checking, and the oft-cited claim that social media drives those with the biggest followers, regardless of their credentials. There are also concerns that social media leads to political polarization. A recent poll shows that only 41% of Americans trust traditional media to report the news “completely, accurately and fairly”. Gallup, who conducted the study, has suggested that political rhetoric that demeans news organizations is a potential problem, with Republican voters far less likely to trust traditional media as a source.
For disenfranchised people, social media can be an alternative to media that they already have doubts about. However, due to the nature of social media, users are primarily exposed to others with similar views, which research suggests can create huge echo chambers – spaces where our own opinions and prejudices are reinforced by the voices posted on our social media feed be filtered.
Amelia Gibson is an Assistant Professor and Director of the Community Equity Data and Information Lab at the University of North Carolina. She sees the events of the past few months as a sign of how many young people are using social media as a source of news. The Covid-19 crisis, combined with renewed interest in the Black Lives Matter movement, fueled the desire for immediate, first-hand information. The distrust of the mainstream media led many young people to search their social media news feeds for information on protests, police actions and stay-at-home orders. But with a web of algorithms delivering content from news organizations, political groups, or even influencers aligned with their own political beliefs and social circles, it also provoked a deepening of already shared views and cultural rifts.
Our social media environments are still so segmented that some people really live in different information worlds. Amelia Gibson
“On the one hand, social media offers a medium to fill a perceived vacuum of trustworthy sources of information,” explains Gibson. “On the other hand, our social media environments are still segmented in such a way that some people actually live in different information worlds. In an information ecosystem, people could read this moment [and current social justice movements] as a hopeful international awakening related to anti-racism, others read it as a time of deep existential threat. We see how these different worlds collide when people meet in real life. “
For Gibson, the solution lies in a convergence of interests – as social media draws attention to previously overlooked stories and rebalances the power to share news, traditional media still plays a role.
“People have always shared the news that was important to them and their communities,” she explains. “I think the difference right now is that news companies are paying attention and reinforcing a moment of mutual struggle … I think social media has done a lot in driving social justice movements over the past decade, but the traditional media have still done it. “A lot of power to get national and international attention.”
For Grygiel, who as a college professor sees first hand how young people act as both content creators and consumers, the relationship between traditional media and social sharing has reached a crucial point. Content creation for all has democratized the news, but it remains an imperfect system fraught with allegations of prejudice, fake news and increasingly polarized viewpoints.
Although sites like Instagram are currently having a huge impact on the dissemination of content to an internet-savvy teen, Grygiel hopes this will drive news publications to create better websites, attract advertisers, and seek independence rather than relying on social media shares to leave. In the meantime, caution should be exercised.
“It’s hard to take full advantage of social media because there is so much harmful content,” they explain. “Social media platforms have not always behaved like good corporate citizens – they have ignored harmful political advertisements and have not monitored hate speech. It’s important to look at them critically, but also to know that without them we wouldn’t have seen the kind of documentation we have on societal harm and transparency about injustices … there are still plenty of opportunities to get content without social media to deliver, and if social media platforms are not acting as good corporate citizens then we need to find new and better ways to get the news out. “