The Role of News on Facebook

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On Facebook, the largest social networking site, news is a common but incidental part of the experience, according to a new online national survey. The study is the first in a multi-part research project by the Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, examining the role of news on Facebook and other social networking sites.

The new survey finds that roughly two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults use Facebook, and half of those users (47%) “ever” get news there. That amounts to 30% of the overall population who are “Facebook news consumers.” Among this group, roughly 8-in-10 (78%) say they mostly get news when they are on Facebook for other reasons, such as seeing what friends are up to or sharing photos.

“People go to Facebook to share personal moments – and they discover the news almost incidentally,” said Amy Mitchell, Pew Research Center’s director of journalism research. “The serendipitous nature of news on Facebook may actually increase its importance as a source of news and information, especially among those who do not follow the news closely.”

While most heavy news consumers do not describe Facebook as an important source of news, light news consumers are more evenly split: Just 38% of Facebook news consumers who say they follow the news “all” or “most of the time” describe the social networking site as an important way they get news. But that number rises to 47% among Facebook news consumers who say they follow news just “some of the time” or less.

Younger adults, who as a group are less engaged than their elders with news on other platforms, are as engaged, if not more so, with news on Facebook. Young people (18- to 29- year-olds) account for about a third (34%) of Facebook news consumers. That far outpaces the 20% they account for among Facebook users who do not get news on the site. What’s more, these 18- to 29-year-olds get news on Facebook across topics at roughly the same levels as older age groups, turn there as often for breaking news and deem the site as important a source of news.

“This study adds to our understanding of the way social media is transforming how news is shared and consumed. The implications for media organizations are significant— through the data they can gain insights on the behavior and preferences of the people they are trying to reach, and identify new engagement opportunities,” said Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation vice president for strategy & assessment.

These are among the principal findings from the survey, an initiative of Pew Research in collaboration with Knight Foundation, conducted August 21-September 2, 2013, among 5,173 U.S. adults, including 3,268 Facebook users and 1,429 Facebook news consumers. The survey was designed and analyzed by the Pew Research Center and administered through the GfK using KnowledgePanel, its nationally representative online research panel. Other key findings:

  • Facebook news consumers still access other platforms for news to roughly the same degree as the population overall. Four-in-ten (42%) Facebook news consumers often watch local television news, as do 46% of all U.S. adults; 23% often watch cable news (compared with 24% of all U.S. adults). But, just 21% of Facebook news consumers often read print newspapers, compared with 27% of the population overall.
  • The more time one spends on the site, the more likely they are to get news there. About two-thirds (67%) of those who use Facebook for at least an hour a day get news there, compared with only 41% of those who spend less than an hour a day on the site.
  • Roughly half (49%) of Facebook news consumers report regularly getting news on six or more different topics. The most popular topic is entertainment news, which 73% of Facebook news consumers get regularly on the site. Next is news about events in one’s own community (65%), national politics and government (55%), and sports (57%). Facebook has yet to become a site for learning about news events as they happen. Just 28% of Facebook news consumers have ever turned there for breaking news.
  • Roughly two-thirds (64%) of Facebook news consumers say they at least sometimes click on news links, and 60% at least sometimes like or comment on stories. About 4-in-10 (43%) post or share links themselves at least sometimes, and 32% discuss issues in the news with other people on Facebook.
  • News outlets rank low among the reasons Facebook news consumers click on news links. The biggest single reason people cite for clicking on links is interest in the topic; 70% name this as a major reason to click on news links. About half say finding the story entertaining (51%) or surprising (50%) is a major reason; 37% say a friend’s recommendation is a major reason. On the other hand, that the link came from a news organization they preferred is cited by just 20% as a major reason for clicking–outpacing only that the story had a lot of “likes” (13%).
  • Facebook news consumers who “like” or follow news organizations or journalists show high levels of news engagement on the site. About a third (34%) of Facebook news consumers have news organizations or individual journalists in their feeds. Those who do are more likely to see the site as an important way to get news than those who do not have news organizations or journalists in their feed (54% versus 38%). They are also nearly three times as likely to often click on news links (27% versus 10%) and discuss issues in the news with others on Facebook (11% versus 4%). They are twice as likely to often post or share stories (16% versus 7%) and “like” or comment on stories (29% versus 15%).

As with U.S. adults overall, only a minority of Facebook news consumers say they prefer news that shares their point of view. Fewer than a third (31%) of Facebook news consumers generally prefer news that shares their own point of view, a slightly higher share than the 27% of U.S. adults who say the same. When asked about things that bother them on Facebook, twice as many Facebook news consumers are bothered when people post political statements (whether related to the news or not) than when people post opinions about something in the news (32% versus 14%). And 58% have been surprised by a friend’s or family member’s opinion about an event in the news on the site.
Read the report: http://www.journalism.org/2013/10/24/the-role-of-news-on-facebook
See the infographic: http://www.journalism.org/2013/10/24/the-facebook-news-experience-infographic/
Read the Knight Foundation blog post about the report: http://www.knightfoundation.org/blogs/knightblog/2013/10/24/friends-followers-and-feeds-how-news-flows-facebook/

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