None of us live in a bubble, although it would be tempting given the troublesome events going on in the world these days. For centuries, people have paid close attention to what’s happening in their communities and the wider world. First, it is a survival technique. After all, if you hear an enemy force is heading your way, it pays to relocate or prepare to defend your territory. Second, human beings are social animals, so we like to know what our fellow humans are up to.
The news makes us feel connected to the wider world. A century ago, the news was disseminated via word of mouth and printed bulletins. Newspapers were the primary medium from the 17th century onwards, but once the 20th century came along, television and radio came to the fore. Today, the local, national, and international news is spread via a wide variety of mediums.
Newspapers in Decline
Newspaper circulation is in decline, although tabloid newspapers such as The Sun and Daily Mail still have circulations in excess of 1.43 million. As a nation, we still buy the Sunday newspapers, but digital news platforms are the real winner in 21st century life, especially with millennials.
It should come as no surprise that there is a discrepancy in how the different generations get their daily dose of what’s happening in the world, from celebrity gossip and news about the royal family to political events and forex signals. Whereas the older generation is more likely to watch the TV news, pick up a newspaper or listen to the radio, millennials gravitate towards online news outlets or social media.
Research carried out by Reuters Institute confirms that millennials prefer catching up with the news online. As is clear by the gradual decline in print media, digital news is the preferred source of news events. Sixty four percent of millennials use digital outlets to find out what’s happening in the world. Thirty three percent of those people use social media as their primary news source. Millennials do still watch the TV, but only 24 percent of them, compared to 51 percent of the 55+ generation.
A Pew Research study concurred with the Reuters study. The Pew data revealed that social media is king when it comes to the news. In the UK, 72 percent of millennials read the news via their Facebook, Twitter feed, and other social networking sites. Only 21 percent of people aged 50+ do the same. The older generation predominantly consumes news via their television.
Whilst the rise of digital news is hardly surprising given we live in a digital age, millennials’ reliance on digital news outlets is slightly concerning. The biggest problem with digital news is that it can be “faked.” Live images and on-the-ground reporters tend to portray events as they are really happening, but a news story posted on Facebook can quite easily be manipulated to say what the author wants it to say.
Fake news has been described as one of the biggest threats to democracy and free debate. Indeed, government sources reported a 4,000 percent increase in fake news stories with links to Russia in the aftermath of the Salisbury poisoning.
Social media may be the preferred source of news for millennials, but there is a very real danger they are seeing a warped view of what’s happening in the world.