Instagram photo sharing app is set to outdo Twitter as a news source, suggests research.
The Reuters Institute’s 2020 digital news report found that Instagram’s use of news had doubled since 2018.
The trend is stronger among young people. He said that nearly a quarter of the UK’s 18-24 year-olds used Instagram as a source of news about the coronavirus.
But social media platforms were also among the least reliable sources.
Only 26% of people said they trusted social media as a source of information about the virus. A similar percentage said they trusted news shared via chat apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
By contrast, national governments and news organizations were both trusted by around 59% of respondents.
Instagram is now used by over a third of all respondents and two thirds of those under the age of 25. And 11% use it for news, putting it just one point behind Twitter.
“Instagram has become very popular with young people,” said Nic Newman, lead author of the report. “They respond really well to stories that are told simply and well with visual images.”
Prominent visual stories in recent months have helped: climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement and coronavirus have seen massive involvement on the platform.
Use of news and not news on social media
Percentage of people who have used the social network in the last week
“It’s not that one necessarily replaces the other,” said Newman. “They could use Facebook and Instagram or use Twitter and Instagram.”
Instagram is owned by Facebook, which now reaches 85% of people every week. The company’s dominance over how stories are told “remains incredibly important,” he added. The company also owns WhatsApp.
Temporary increase in trust
The coronavirus pandemic also appears to have offered a temporary suspension to a downward trend in the confidence of news organizations.
Only 38% of people said they trusted the news most of the time. Less than half – 46% – said they trusted their favorite news source.
In total, 40 countries were interviewed. Only six of them said that they could trust “most of the news most of the time”.
The case was particularly poor in the UK, where only 28% of respondents supported the statement. That figure was 12 percentage points lower than the nation’s response in the 2019 report.
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That collapse in confidence was only matched by Chile and Hong Kong, which both saw violent street protests – and which rank even higher than in the UK, with 30% each.
But things changed substantially after the coronavirus crisis hit.
A slightly different question formulated in April – about the level of trust in coronavirus information – saw news organizations rise to a confidence level of 59%, on par with national governments.
Trust in Covid-19 information sources
Average from six countries, April 2020
The authors of the report speculate on the same levels of trust as a result of news organizations that amplify public health advice.
But that sudden spike has already started to fall.
Trust is a valuable asset for journalists who, like all social goods, are easily destroyed, but not easily created. Maintaining confidence in the social media era becomes more difficult every day, as conspiracy theories go viral, accuracy is too often sacrificed on the altar of virality, and the very idea of truth is so contested.
This report shows a curious paradox in relation to trust. It is true that confidence in what is sometimes disparaged in a disparaging way as mainstream journalism is diminishing; yet the general public of those outlets at the beginning of the pandemic is nothing more than a verdict on the appetite of the public for reliable and trustworthy news. In Britain, with its regulated broadcasts, there are still many.
The deeper question is whether a young audience will consume it.
Reuters shows Instagram’s extraordinary growth as a news source, making Facebook buying more and more like one of the biggest deals in history. If, as the authors predict, Instagram will surpass Twitter next year, that may be the time for journalists to finally realize that the latter, although it is their favorite platform, looks less and less like public opinion.
“What we are seeing is relatively high levels of trust – at the time of the blockages – in the media and national governments. But since then we have some polls, which shows that trust in the media has fallen by 11 percentage points between April and May” , Said Newman.
While not officially part of the report, that recent survey suggests that the “moment of national unity” may have passed.
Of all these analyzes of trust issues, most people – what the report calls the “silent majority” – prefer what they consider “objective” news.
The authors of the report have not asked this question since 2013, since the use of public opinion and open positions on news has grown.
In nine countries where this has been explored, everyone has said they prefer news from sources with “no point of view”.
The strongest preference was in Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and Denmark. These are “all countries with strong and independent public broadcasters,” notes the report.
On the contrary, the United States – “where both politics and the media have become increasingly partisan over the years” – many more people have said they prefer news that shares their point of view.
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BBC News, which provided data to the study, remained the most reliable news brand in the UK, with 64% confidence.
“Despite the fact that the BBC has suffered a lot of criticism, what we constantly find is that the BBC remains, with most people, highly trusted,” Newman said. “[It], together with issuers like ITV, tends to be the most reliable.
“But of course, we have seen erosion – particularly with a particularly vocal minority on both the left and right, which has relied less on the BBC in recent years.”
The decline is particularly marked in those of the political left. Since the 2019 elections, the left has seen its confidence in the news plummet to just 15%, according to the report.