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Research: Instagram overtakes Twitter as a news source

Photo-sharing app Instagram is set to overtake Twitter as a news source, research suggests.

The 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News report found the use of Instagram for news had doubled since 2018.

The trend is strongest among young people. It said nearly a quarter of UK 18-24-year-olds used Instagram as a source of news about coronavirus.

But social media platforms were also among the least-trusted sources.

Just 26% of people said they trusted social media as a source of information about the virus. A similar percentage said they trusted news that had been shared via chat apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

National governments and news organisations, by contrast, were both trusted by about 59% of respondents.

Instagram is now used by more than a third of all people who answered the survey, and two-thirds of under-25s. And 11% use it for news, putting it just one point behind Twitter.

“Instagram’s become very popular with younger people”, said Nic Newman, lead author of the report. “They really respond well to stories that are told simply and well with visual images”.

Stand-out visual stories in recent months have helped – climate change, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the coronavirus has all seen massive engagement on the platform.

Percentage of people who used the social network in the past week countries: UK, USA, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, Italy Denmark, Finland, Japan, Australia, Brazil.Source: Reuters Institute

“It’s not that one necessarily replaces the other,” Mr Newman said. “They might use Facebook and Instagram, or might use Twitter and Instagram.”

Instagram is owned by Facebook, which now reaches 85% of people each week. The company’s dominance in how stories are being told “remains incredibly important”, he added. The firm also owns WhatsApp.

The coronavirus pandemic also seems to have offered a temporary reprieve to a downward trend in how much news organisations are trusted.

Only 38% of people said they trusted the news most of the time. Less than half – 46% – said they trusted their favoured news source.

In total, 40 countries were surveyed. Only in six of them did a majority say they could trust “most of the news most of the time”.

The case was particularly poor in the UK, where only 28% of respondents backed the statement. That figure was 12 percentage points lower than the nation’s response in the 2019 report.

That plummet in confidence was only matched by Chile and Hong Kong, which have both seen violent street protests – and still rank more highly than the UK, on 30% each.

But things changed substantially once the coronavirus crisis hit.

A slightly differently worded question in April – about the level of trust in information about the coronavirus – saw news organisations surge to a 59% trust rating, on a par with national governments.

The report’s authors speculate the identical levels of trust as a result of news organisations amplifying public health advice.

But that sudden high has already started to fall.

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