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Young People Turn To Social Media for News Now More Than Ever


Say what you will about Gen Z-ers and Millennials, but their generations are some of the most socially-conscious and politically active generations today. Most recently, Gen Z-ers were credited as the generation that saved the 2022 U.S. Midterm Election from a red wave of Republican candidates after, to politicians and pundits’ surprise, they went out to the polls to vote for candidates that aligned with their values.

This impressive trajectory begs the question, who influences the influencers? It all lies in the demographic patterns of Gen Z-ers and Millennials who are turning to social media for the news. An AP-NORC poll shows that on average, 91 percent of 16 to 40 year old Americans get their news from social media on a weekly basis compared to a 71 percent of traditional news consumption. What was once an individual and introspective experience, getting the news is now a real-time collective experience where people can comment, ask questions and dig deeper on an issue in one single post through social media.

Why are young people turning to social media and why does it seem to be a growing aversion to traditional news outlets? The pandemic served as a catalyst for current news consumption trends but distrust in traditional media had been growing back in 2017 after the 2016 presidential election. According to a study covered by USA Today from Data & Society and the Knight Foundation, a 22-year-old African-American participant told the researchers that news is only what the majority want to hear. Others felt that they resented traditional news outlets for not showing the complete facts or sides to a story regardless of their political leanings.

This does not mean that younger audiences are not skeptical of social media even though they rely on it heavily for news. In fact, a UNICEF-Gallup poll surveyed in 21 countries found that a median 17 percent of young people trusted social media for information, showing that social media is often the first form of contact young people have with breaking news and current events, regardless of the accuracy. However, their skepticism about this fact will push them to seek other resources to get all sides of a story.

As PR practitioners, understanding the nuances of how this influential group of social activists get their news will help us be more tactful with how we approach them. This can be a matter of choosing the correct media placements, from specifically doing a social media campaign to focusing outreach on podcasts. Figuring out how to create a level of trust as mediators between our clients and younger passionate yet skeptical audiences is a challenge that will push the PR landscape forward.

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