News & Opinion | July 27, 2020 10:27 am

Is Instagram the News Source of Choice for Millennials and Gen Z?

Young people are turning to social media as a primary news source, but it's not without its drawbacks

instagram news
Once a place for selfies and thirst traps, Instagram is becoming a news destination.
Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Once the dedicated social-media platform where users flocked to pretend to be hotter, cooler versions of themselves, it seems Instagram is gaining popularity as a news source among young people.

According to recent data on how people are accessing news about the coronavirus pandemic, more than 25 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States reported getting their news from Instagram within the last month. The age group was unsurprisingly the most likely to use social media as a news source in general, with other popular platforms including Snapchat, where 19 percent of people in the 18-24 age range turned for news, and TikTok, which drew in nine percent.

The trend toward social media as a news outlet isn’t exactly surprising, and seems to have seen an uptick in recent months as people turn to Instagram for information about community-led initiatives surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. Experts suggest such platforms may present a more attractive alternative in an age of growing news-media skepticism.

“Social media offers, on the one hand, a medium for filling what feels like a vacuum of trustworthy information sources,” Amelia Gibson, assistant professor and director of the Community Equity Data and Information Lab at the University of North Carolina, told the Guardian.

Of course, this doesn’t by any means make social media a flawless news source. On platforms where anyone can be a journalist and fact-checking is — at best — optional, concerns about bias, fake news and misinformation are valid.

“Our social media environments are still so segmented that some people really do live in different information worlds,” said Gibson. “In one information ecosystem, people might read this moment [and current social justice movements] as a hopeful international awakening related to anti-racism, others read it as a time of deep existential threat.”

The solution, according to Gibson, could be in a combination of social media’s ability to amplify voices and social movements, coupled with the journalistic rigor and responsibility of traditional news outlets. “I think that social media has done a lot to push social justice movements forward in the last decade but that traditional media still has a lot of power to command national and international attention.”

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