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Younger Generations Are Turning To Instagram And TikTok For Their News

July 15, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Twitter is big. Instagram is bigger. Worldwide, Twitter has more than 166 million monetizable daily active users (mDAU/users who see ads). Instagram has a billion. And, although both social media platforms have specific identities in the eyes of users, Instagram has recently been encroaching on Twitter as a source for news, with use of Instagram for news doubling since 2018, according to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020

Each social media platform offers something different for users, and recent events like coronavirus, the racial justice protests and the upcoming election are impacting how users interact with the individual social platforms. Rising star TikTok is also in the mix as an information source, with Gen Z especially.

Twitter Cracks Down On Fake News During The Pandemic

Twitter birdThere are approximately 6,000 Tweets sent per second. That’s an astonishing amount of content, and some of it isn’t going to be true. Twitter has approximately 24% more users than a year ago, and much of that is attributed to increased usage during quarantines. But, with much power comes much responsibility, and Twitter has been taking an active role cracking down on fake news. 

In a blog post on May 11 announcing the updates, Twitter said, “In serving the public conversation, our goal is to make it easy to find credible information on Twitter and to limit the spread of potentially harmful and misleading content. Starting today, we’re introducing new labels and warning messages that will provide additional context and information on some Tweets containing disputed or misleading information related to COVID-19.” 

As Twitter’s profile has grown, its role as a news source and a news maker has also, no doubt due to high profile Tweeters like the President and many other politicians, journalists and culture critics. In contrast to Facebook’s policies, Twitter has tried to take an active role in monitoring what news is legitimate. Twitter users tend to skew toward Millennial-aged, educated city dwellers, split fairly evenly across racial lines. In 2018, 71% of Twitter users said they get their news from Twitter. However, with usership across Twitter up and aggressive attempts by the platform to provide the most truthful information, Twitter will likely become an even more relevant source of news heading into election season with multiple major news stories continuing to converge, even with Instagram at their heels.

Instagram Shines As A News And Information Outlet For Activists

IG photoAlthough it feels like a very long time ago, 2019 was when the presidential election really started to heat up and Instagram increasingly became a go-to source of political information for younger social media users. In a 2019 Business Insider poll of 1,884 people ages 13 to 21, 65% of respondents said they get their news from Instagram. According to Business Insider, “Older Americans may be confused by the reliance on Instagram. But, the range of political meme accounts, personalities and more straightforward news publications mean that the social media platform can provide an endless stream of content.” In response, many candidates started live streaming Q&As, and currently both Joe Biden and Donald Trump are active on Instagram.

Recently, Instagram was a hotbed of activism during the racial justice protests, and it has remained steadily tuned into the ongoing conversations and actions stemming from those protests. “It’s not surprising that Instagram is becoming more political if you think about who’s using it. It’s generational. The past couple of years, the main people who have been protesting and organizing — Millennials and Gen Z — they’re on Instagram,” said Nicole Carty, an activist and organizer based in New York, in an article on Recode

There is concern among activists that Instagram could descend into a hub of misinformation and harassment like many other social media sites, particularly as the election heats up and politicians turn to the platform. However, momentum from the protests will likely continue to positively impact Instagram's growth as a news source and aggregator in the coming months, with one activist telling Recode, “As we continue into the 2020 election, we have to go where people are, and Instagram is it.”

TikTok Is An Important Source Of News And Storytelling For Gen Z

Surprising no one that parents teenagers, TikTok is more than just a source of dance videos and memes for Gen Z. In the first week of June, NPR reported, “Videos with the #blacklivesmatter hashtag have skyrocketed to a top spot on TikTok, accruing more than 6 billion views in recent days. Other popular hashtags include #blackvoices and #blackmusic.”

TikTok has become a place where many young people find news and form their political identities, establishing personas and creating shareable content within the short-video platform. And, for some young people, TikTok is the first exposure they’ve had to certain political views or like-minded people.

“Something that’s pretty special about TikTok in terms of both political expression and political dialogue/conflict is that it’s all filtered through young people’s personal identities and experiences. Political dialogue on the platform is very personal, and youth will often state diverse social identities — e.g. Black, Mexican, L.G.B.T.Q., redneck, country — in direct relation to their political views,” said Ioana Literat, an Assistant Professor of Communication and Media at Teachers College, Columbia University, in an article with The New York Times examining the role of TikTok in shaping young political minds. Experts agree that TikTok isn’t always about political consensus, but rather shared “symbolic resources” like TikTok dances, hashtag campaigns, raised fists or certain songs. There is also a sense of “generational solidarity” around homegrown activism on TikTok, with Gen Z proudly referring to their group identity as a powerful force for the future.

What’s Next For Social Media Platforms And The News?

Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020 “shows that younger users, especially those now coming into adulthood, are even less connected with news brands and more dependent on social media.” It’s unlikely that will change, particularly with lack of trust in the media and younger generations’ comfort with social media. For digital marketers, targeting of younger, engaged audiences on social media platforms will have to be done authentically and strike the right chord tonally, or advertisers could be perceived negatively. Brands that take social responsibility seriously are also more likely to resonate with younger consumers on social media.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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