Business of News

Is Facebook a media company? Some online news consumers think so.

February 9, 2017
Photo courtesy of Facebook.

A new Pew Research Center report out today shines new light on how people read and use online information. The report, “How Americans Encounter, Recall, and Act Upon Digital News,” surveyed 2,078 online news consumers twice a day for a week to get a clearer picture of how people get their news, whether they know where it came from, and what they do with in once they’ve read it.

By a statistically insignificant margin, the most common way for people to get their news is still by visiting a news organization directly. In these cases, findings showed that people are more aware of the source of the news, and they’re less likely to share it with others.

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However, when people get their news through social media—or from friends via email or text—they’re less likely to remember the source, and they’re more likely to share it online or send it to friends. Notably, 10 percent of those surveyed who clicked on a news link named Facebook as a specific “news outlet” when asked for the source of a piece of news. That gels with previous research, such as that conducted by Victoria Rubin, Yimin Chen, and Niall Conroy of the University of Western Ontario, which suggest that social media sites erode the value of a news organization’s reputation by decontextualizing news from its source.

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According to the Pew report, the actions people take after consuming news varies from speaking about with it a friend, searching for more information about it, sharing it online or via text and email, bookmarking it for later, or commenting on a story. The findings of this study are in line with previous Pew studies that show that most news is shared verbally.

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Additionally, the follow-up actions taken online tend to remain within the digital arena in which the news originated. For example, news found on social media is more likely to then be shared on social media sites, while news that comes through search engines is more likely to lead to additional search activity. The number of people who are likely to share a story on social media at all, no matter where they came across the news, is relatively low at just 10 percent.

Over the past year, concern about fake news has intensified as the amount of political misinformation has increased. Indeed, political news was by far the most popular type of news consumed during the week studied (February 24 to March 1, 2016), which included Super Tuesday. However, Pew’s findings showed that people are generally more aware of where political news comes from than for news on any other topic except business, likely because people are more likely to get political news directly from a news organization.

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More takeaways from the report:

  • People access news and act on it differently according to what the news is about. For example, people are more likely to seek out business news by going directly to a news organization, while science news was generally found via search engine, and community news was mostly found on social media.
  • In cases where people specifically sought out news, they were less likely to act upon it. For example, business and sports news top the list of topics that consumers specifically seek out, but is near the bottom of the list of news that inspires follow-up action. People were more likely to act upon news on the topics of community and health.
  • Age and gender also play a role in how people get their news. Younger and female online news consumers are more likely to get their news through social media, while older and male consumers are more likely to seek it out directly from a news organization.


Shelley Hepworth , formerly a CJR Delacorte Fellow, is Technology Editor at The Conversation in Australia. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymiranda.