The burgeoning problem of fake news over the last several months has underscored the role that social media plays in our news consumption. And it doesn’t look like that role will be getting any smaller anytime soon. According to new data from Digital News Report, WhatsApp is becoming an increasingly popular source of news, and in some parts of the world, has overtaken its parent company Facebook as the go-to purveyor of information.
As per the new report (which was conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism), “the use of WhatsApp for news is starting to rival Facebook in a number of markets, including Malaysia (51 percent), Brazil (46 percent), and Spain (32 percent).” And while 47 percent of study respondents overall still check out Facebook to see what’s going on in the world, this figure has actually dropped in over 50 percent of countries surveyed when compared to 2016.
Taken as a whole, it doesn’t appear that WhatsApp is gaining much ground — after all, only 15 percent of overall respondents said that they used the messaging service to stay informed. But on a country-by-country basis, the picture begins to shift. In Brazil, the 46 percent of people who use WhatsApp as their top news source represents a 7-percentage-point growth over last year. In Spain, 32 percent rely on WhatsApp for news, a 6-point increase from last year, and in Turkey, the study found an 8-point increase.
So why the sudden uptick in popularity?
The Reuters Institute surmised that “more closed and private messaging … allows users to share without fear of embarrassment,” whether this content is comprised of photos or potentially contentious news articles. Moreover, price plays a part, as free WhatsApp is generally included in phone contracts (particularly enticing in developing markets). And finally, because WhatsApp offers end-to-end encryption, it is often viewed as a safe means of sharing sensitive information. As the Institute noted, “This is true in Hong Kong where WhatsApp, We Chat, and Facebook Messenger are popular and in Turkey where a quarter of our sample (25 percent) share news via WhatsApp.”
But even as these messaging services become more popular, they’re not necessarily viewed as more trustworthy. Less than a quarter of respondents said that social media is good at differentiating between fact and fiction. So keep looking for the truth, friends — although it may not be where you spend your social media time.
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