In today's edition of "news that doesn't really seem like news," research from the Pew Research Center indicates that the majority of Americans get their news from social media these days. According to Pew's survey, 62 percent of adults in the United States reported using their newsfeed for, well, news from time to time in 2016, and 18 percent do so regularly. To the social media savvy, this may not come as a huge shock, but it's indicative of a larger trend toward using platforms like Facebook and Twitter to keep up with world events. When Pew asked a similar question in 2012, just 49 percent of users said they recieved news through social media — meaning the current figure represents a clear increase in the popularity of the practice over just a few years.
Conducted in early 2016, the study analyzed the habits of more than 4,600 participants on nine different social media platforms. According to the results, some sites are more news-oriented than others: 70 percent of Reddit users got their news from the site, for example, while two-thirds of Facebook users and 59 percent of Twitter users reported the same of their respective platforms. Tumblr trailed behind at 31 percent, and less than a fifth of users on other sites like YouTube and Snapchat reported getting news from the sites.
Although Reddit had the highest proportion of news consumers, it's important to note the difference in actual numbers. Facebook has the largest number of users (estimations vary, but it's usually at least two thirds of the adult population), so when two-thirds of Facebook users get their news from the site, it amounts to around 44 percent of the entire U.S. population. Just 21 percent of YouTube users watch news on the site, but considering 48 percent of American adults use it, that encompasses a fairly large chunk of the population — according to Pew's calculations, it's approximately equal to Twitter's reach, which has a smaller user base but larger proportion of people receiving news from the site.
The study also investigated the possibility of overlap between sites, but as it turns out, most people actually get their news from just one source. According to the survey, 64 percent of respondents reported receiving news from one social media platform, which was usually Facebook. Around a quarter find news on two sites, and only 10 percent rely on three or more sites. The survey also uncovered a difference in the way we find news: Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube users tended to stumble across current events while doing other things, but Reddit, Twitter, and LinkedIn users were as likely to actively seek out news as they were to come across it by chance.
Finally, the survey noted that social media was far from the only source of news; some users also looked to other sources like late-night television and local stations. Around half of LinkedIn and Twitter users also reported using news apps, compared to 28 percent of adults overall.
Of course, news consumption isn't the only aspect of our lives affected by social media — let's take a look at five other ways it's changing the world as we know it.
1. Mental Health
At this point, the impact of social media on mental health has been discussed to death, reanimated, then discussed right back into the grave. However, that doesn't change the fact that scrolling through Facebook or Instagram can exacerbate pre-existing disorders like depression and anxiety. Of course, social media isn't negative or positive by nature; its effect lies in the way we use it.
2. Online Harassment
It's no secret that the Internet can be a difficult place to be a minority; in the same way that it provides a way for minorities to speak out about important issues, it also gives trolls the opportunity to troll away. As a result, social media can become a platform for online harassment, and it's not getting any better. According to a study released earlier this week, more than 200,000 aggressive tweets — defined as containing slurs like "slut" or "whore" — were sent to more than 80,000 Twitter users over the course of just three weeks in April.
3. Encouraging Conversations
It's easy to assume that social media allows people to insulate themselves, unfollowing anyone who disagrees with their point of view until the result is a feedback loop reinforcing the same opinions. However, research doesn't necessarily support this theory; according to a study published earlier this year, social media exposes people to political opinions they disagree with, and sometimes, the resulting discussion can even change their minds. Just maybe don't depend on a YouTube comment section for political discourse.
4. The Dating Scene
Remember when online dating was still taboo, and the tacit understanding was that you'd lie and say you met in cooking class? Those days are long gone. Thanks to the sheer volume of dating apps available today (Tinder, Bumble, Farmers Only, Mouse Mingle, and many, many more), dating has never been more available, or more niche.
5. Raising Awareness Of Social Issues
In the same way that social media can have a negative impact for some, it can also have a hugely positive one. Without social media, most people wouldn't ever hear of inspirational stories like Caine's Arcade or Copia, the San Francisco-based "Uber of food recovery." In short, social media is just like its users, neither inherently good nor bad — what you make of it is up to you.