How young people ‘by chance’ read the news on social media?

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In recent years, young people have increasingly read the news on social media ‘by chance’. A team of researchers states that young people read the news with little attention, and that news is not seen as more or less important than other information on social media.

50 young people from US between the ages of 18 and 29 were interviewed. This age group is particularly interesting, according to the researchers, because previous research has shown that incidental news consumption occurs mainly in this group. The interviews had to clarify under which circumstances and why young people occasionally read the news, and the consequences of this.

Search for information at any time

The researchers were able to identify a number of patterns from the interviews. First of all, it turns out that mobile phones, much more than other ‘screens’, have become an essential part of the daily life of young people. These phones allow them to search for information anywhere, anytime. This also explains why, according to the researchers, there is no preference for a specific time or place to consume the news in an incidental manner.

According to the researchers, reading news on social media is primarily a ‘by-product’ of a large flow of information that young people encounter on Facebook and Twitter. Incidental news consumption is therefore not necessarily – and not primarily – about the news itself.

A little attention

Moreover, the researchers argue that young people read the news with little attention and in a fragmented way because of this large flow of information on social media. Interviewees said that they mainly focused on the headline of an article, the accompanying images and the leads. In most cases, however, young people do not click through to the news provider’s website.

In addition, incidental news consumption on social media takes the actual news out of context. A news item is not seen as more or less important than other information that young people come across. In this way, the news loses its ‘privileged’ place, according to the researchers. This is also evident from the way in which young people decide which news is worthy of their scarce attention: they prefer to rely on the judgment of their acquaintances rather than on the media and journalists who offer these articles.

Question for follow-up research

The researchers discuss the limitations of their research to a lesser extent. A question that could still be answered by follow-up research is whether young people from countries with a different media system – such as India – consume news in the same way on social media.

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