Americans have long been much more likely to trust information from local and national news organizations than information on social media sites. This remains the case today, except among the youngest adults. Adults under 30 are now almost as likely to trust information from social media sites as they are to trust information from national news outlets.
In a recent Pew Research Center survey, half of 18- to 29-year-olds in the United States say they have some or a lot of trust in the information they get from social media sites, just under the 56% who say the same about information from national news organizations, but somewhat below the 62% who say so about information from local news organizations.
Adults in all other age groups remain considerably less likely to trust information from social media sites than information from national and local news outlets. This is largely due to much lower levels of trust in the information they get on social media sites. Whereas half of adults under 30 have at least some trust in the information on these sites, the share falls to 36% among those ages 30 to 49, 25% among those 50 to 64, and just 20% among those 65 and older. In turn, older Americans, particularly those 50 and older, are often more likely than younger Americans to express trust in national and local news outlets.
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I’m not sure this is any cause for concern.
Firstly, the questions leave a lot of room for ambiguity, and simply ask “How much, if at all, do you trust the information you get from…(National News Organizations/Local News Organizations/Social Media Sites). That doesn’t say anything about the reputability of the specific organizations or publishers on those sites. Plenty of reputable sources engage on social media, while plenty of disreputable sources engage on local and national news organizations. Just check this website’s sidebar.
Secondly, I’m not exactly willing to take respondents’ self-assessments at face value. As a personal anecdote, I’ve encountered many a “skeptic” who claims to not believe media in general, who also goes well out of their way to believe total crackpot that gets aired on their low-credibility, high-bias outlet of choice.
Finally, more important than any “trust” rating for broad categories of what medium one consumes content through is the skill of media literacy. Assuming media literacy for each medium roughly tracks with one’s level of experience with that medium, then it’s not exactly profound that people who’ve grown up connected to the internet at large are willing to give it more trust than those to whom social media is much less familiar.
To be sure, these findings are important specifically for understanding where disinformation campaigns find their power and how it can effectively be counteracted, but the observed trends are by no means bad or dangerous in and of themselves.