The good news is that most teen-agers believe it’s important to follow current events. The bad news is that more than half get their news from social media or YouTube celebrities rather than bona fide news outlets, a new survey shows.
In addition, 60% of teens who get news from YouTube say they are more likely to get it from celebrities or influencers, compared to news organizations (39%), according to the poll by Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey. The difference is even more striking among daily YouTube news consumers: 71% vs. 28%.
Media observers call the revelation disconcerting, given the amount of fake news and misinformation on social media. Misinformation and fake news still proliferate on Facebook and Twitter despite the companies’ efforts to control it.
YouTube Battles Misinformation
YouTube also remains plagued by misinformation, including conspiracy theories and extremist rants. YouTube hosts often don’t bother to verify reports. Many have agendas, either obvious or cloaked. Although YouTube adjusted its algorithm to limit misinformation, a HuffPost investigation found that its top conspiracy theory channels continue to grow.
Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense, calls teen’s preference for YouTube personalities a “cause for concern.”
“We don’t necessarily have a great sense of whether those influencers or celebrities have standards and ethics, or what kind of disclosures they’re making,” Robb told USA Today. “Are they objective sources or not? How trustworthy is their research? There’s a whole host of things that you would need to understand to know whether something is more legitimate. I’m not sure that is clear when you’re getting it from a celebrity, influencer or personality.”
Concerns over Lack of Standards
“These findings raise concerns about what kind of news the next generation is using to shape their decisions. There are few standards for what constitutes news and how accurately it’s portrayed on the platforms teens use,” Common Sense CEO James Steyer stated in a press release. The findings are especially worrisome given the approaching 2020 elections, he said.
Teens like the visual appeal of YouTube: 64% said “seeing pictures and video showing what happened” helped them to understand major news events, compared to 36% who said they prefer to read or hear news reports.
The survey results highlight a need for PR agencies and corporate PR departments to monitor YouTube and other social networks and to engage with YouTube celebrities and other social media influencers. While its critical for corporate communications teams to monitor social media for brand mentions and swiftly counter misinformation, businesses can play a larger role by urging social media platforms to control fake news.
Adults also increasingly obtain their news through social media. One-in-five U.S. adults say they often get news via social media, compared to 16% who often obtain news from print newspapers, according to Pew Research survey completed last year.
The overall shift of news consumption to social media requires that PR place greater emphasis on social media as well for media placements.
Bottom Line: Teen-agers would rather obtain news through YouTube personalities and social media networks than legitimate news outlets. That’s a troubling trend, given the abundance of fake news, misinformation and conspiracy theorists on those platforms. YouTube influencers general lack the objective, fact-based standards of traditional journalism. PR pros need to carefully monitor social media and engage with online influencers.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.