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“Politics as a chronic stressor”: News about politics bums you out and can make you feel ill — but it also makes you take action
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July 30, 2020, 12:38 p.m.
Audience & Social
LINK: www.journalism.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   July 30, 2020

Ahead of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, a new report from the Pew Research Center is a window into what news consumption looks like for people who primarily get their news from social media.

According to Pew, Americans who mostly rely on social media for news are less knowledgeable about politics and the coronavirus pandemic, and less engaged. Eighteen percent of U.S. adults “primarily” get their political and election news from social media, while 25% use news websites and apps. Just 3% said they get such news mainly via print.

Chart shows about one-in-five U.S. adults say they get their political news primarily through social media

Pew conducted the study between October 2019 and June 2020 through five surveys as part of the the Center’s American News Pathways project, which studies how news consumption habits impact the ways that people hear and perceive the news. It found that the people who rely on social media for news skew younger (48 percent were between ages 18 and 29), are less likely to be white, and and tend to have a lower household income and lower levels of education, though Pew notes that that can be attributed to the fact that they’re younger.

Chart shows those who get most of their political news from social media more likely to be younger adults, less likely to be white

“As of early June this year, just 8% of U.S. adults who get most of their political news from social media say they are following news about the 2020 election ‘very closely,’ compared with roughly four times as many among those who turn most to cable TV (37%) and print (33%),” the report says. That same group is also the least likely to be following coronavirus news very closely (23 percent). Here’s how Pew identified who is “knowledgeable”:

Across the nine months of study and five separate surveys, respondents were asked 29 different fact-based questions that touch on a variety of topics related to the news, from economics to Donald Trump’s impeachment to the COVID-19 outbreak and more (see Appendix for details). Across these 29 questions, the average proportion who got each question right is lower among Americans who rely most on social media for political news than those who rely most on other types of news sources, except for local TV.

Other findings include:

  • Social media news consumers are more likely (68%) than most to report seeing made-up news related to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • About 81% of social media news consumers had heard at least a little bit about the conspiracy theory that the pandemic was planned.
  • Only a third (37%) of these social media news consumers are “very concerned” about the impact of misinformation on the 2020 election.

Read the full report here.

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