Instagram trends Upwards as a News Source

Photo Illustration by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The takeaways

  • The 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News Report reports that Facebook, YouTube, and WhatsApp are the top three most popular social media platforms for news.
  • Instagram’s use as a news source has doubled since 2018 to 11%, one percent behind Twitter.

  • Social media platforms were among the least-trusted news sources with only a 26% trust rating compared to 59% for national governments and news organizations.

What happened?

Basing its findings on the 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, the BBC announced today that the use of Instagram for news has doubled since 2018. The news network, which is named a Reuters Institute supporter in the report, also indicates that the Facebook-owned social platform is, at 11%, a single point behind Twitter as a news source. It goes on to predict that Instagram will overtake Twitter as a news source in the next year.

Using surveying methods, the report identifies that nearly a quarter of UK 18-24-year-olds searched Instagram for coronavirus news, suggesting a majority of usage by younger people. Nic Newman, the report’s lead author, credited Instagram’s simple and visually-based storytelling for its popularity with younger people. A third of the survey respondents and two-thirds of under-25s identified as Instagram users. Newman stated that the prevalence of any single platform over the others did not necessarily mean that users did not source information from multiple sources.

Reuters Institute via the BBC

Who to trust?

The report’s statistics also indicate that at 26%, social media platforms were among the least-trusted news sources, compared against national governments and news organizations each at 59%. Reporting on the coronavirus pandemic was suggested as the source of a reversal in the previous downwards trend of the latter. Out of 40 countries in total, only in six did a majority affirm that they trusted “most of the news [organizations] most of the time”.

Further topics addressed included impartiality. Nine countries, particularly Germany, Japan, Denmark, and the UK, preferred news from sources with “no point of view”. The US, conversely, responded with a majority preference for news that shares their point of view. 

Amol Rajan, a BBC News media editor, analyzed the report’s findings. He noted that against the social media landscape, trust was increasingly difficult to maintain due to “the very idea of truth” becoming “contested”, as well as sensationalism and viral conspiracy theories. 

Juxtaposing the falling trust in mainstream journalism against the appetite for pandemic reporting from known sources, he went on to question what this might mean for the habits of younger users. Rajan described “the huge audiences for those outlets at the start of the pandemic [as] nothing if not a verdict on the public appetite for reliable, trustworthy news.”

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