KEY POINTS

  • Those who get their news from social media tend to be young and nonwhite
  • People who get their news from local television also are unconcerned about the impact of false information
  • Just 3% of Americans get their news from print media

Americans who rely on social media for their news are less knowledgeable and more likely to get the facts about major stories wrong, according to analysis released Thursday by the Pew Research Center.

But social media isn’t alone in leading Americans astray on important issues.

Pew reported about 18% of Americans rely on social media while 25% use news websites or apps, 16% watch cable television, 16% watch local channels, 13% watch network television and 8% listen to radio news. Just 3% read print publications.

The analysis is based on surveys conducted between October 2019 and June 2020 as part of the American News Pathways project.

The surveys show those who rely on social media for political news are less likely to closely follow major stories; tend to be younger, female and nonwhite; and are often less educated. Their own politics lean Democratic. 

“Given the tendency of older adults to generally follow news more closely than younger ones, some of the relative lack of attention to these stories is connected to the fact that those who use social media to follow political news are disproportionately young. However, even among Americans ages 50 and older, those who turn to social media most for their political news are less likely than others in their age group to be following both COVID-19 news and news about the election very closely,” Pew said.

They’re also less likely to be following election news closely.

Over the course of the survey, respondents were asked 29 questions to test their knowledge of basic facts on a variety of topics from economics to the impeachment of President Trump.

Only 17% of those who get their news from social media were able to correctly answer questions related to politics, compared with 45% of those who obtained their news from news websites. Only those who get their political news from local television (10%) scored lower.

The survey also found those who get their news from social media were more likely to be exposed to false or unproven claims.

About a quarter of those who get their news from social media said they had heard a lot about a bogus conspiracy theory positing powerful people had planned the coronavirus pandemic and 81% had heard something about the bogus plot.

They also were aware of debunked claims that vitamin C could ward off coronavirus and 5G mobile networks were contributing to its spread.

Yet, 37% said they weren’t very concerned about the impact of made-up news and the effect it might have on this year's presidential election. The only group less concerned was those who get their news from local television (35%).

The survey took place during the same time that Fox News and Sinclair Broadcast Group aired segments downplaying the pandemic's severity and challenging scientific research on the infection. Fox News airs nationwide and Sinclair is in markets covering 40% of the United States.

Sinclair intended to run a segment on conspiracy theorist Judy Mikovits, who accused Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, of creating COVID-19 from monkey cells that he shipped to Wuhan, China. Sinclair initially defended the segment as “free speech” but on Monday conceded it was inappropriate.