Featured | 03.01.17

Navigating the News: New report details how youth express low trust in media, vary strategies to verify content

Today, Data & Society releases “How Youth Navigate the News Landscape.” Supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the report explores how young people use mobile devices, messaging apps, and social media to consume breaking news.

Co-authors Mary Madden, Amanda Lenhart, and Claire Fontaine find that American teens and young adults express low levels of trust in the news media and use a variety of strategies to confirm, verify, and clarify the stories they care about. The report is based on findings from six exploratory focus groups with 52 teenagers and young adults in three U.S. cities: Philadelphia, Chicago, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

“Teens and young adults are on the front lines of navigating an incredibly complex information environment,” says Mary Madden, a researcher at Data & Society and one of the authors of the report. “Long-held assumptions about the patterns and rhythms of news consumption are being upended by a generation that largely experiences journalism through mobile apps and algorithm-controlled social media platforms.”

Report and key findings:

How Youth Navigate the News Landscape | blog post | press release

  • News is frequently encountered by accident, as young people dip into flows of news across various platforms.
  • Patterns of verification and discernment in confirming trustworthy sources vary among teens and young adults.
  • Certain behaviors—such as taking screenshots of news stories to share them with friends—may elude current tools to record and track traffic to news platforms.

Lack of trust and perceived bias in the news was an important theme across all focus groups. On social media, youth are regularly exposed to a range of news content of varying quality that they must learn to assess both independently and collectively. In this environment, many young people assume a great deal of personal responsibility for educating themselves and actively seeking out opposing viewpoints. The report provides insights for journalists and other organizations looking to engage younger audiences in the growing mobile news ecosystem.

“These findings illustrate a variety of innovative strategies that young people are using to assess the veracity of the news stories they find online,” said Amanda Lenhart, senior research scientist at the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and a co-author of the report. “Teens and young adults range widely across different news platforms, consulting multiple sources in an attempt to verify and clarify stories they encounter.”

“These findings provide news organizations with a reference point to develop new approaches to mobile news innovation and audience engagement, opening opportunities to build trust with younger audiences,” said Luz Gomez, director of research at Knight Foundation. “As journalists work to discover fresh ways to engage audiences and understand the habits of the next generation of news consumers, this report offers a detailed look into how young people conceptualize and consume news in digital spaces—and which sources they trust.”

The report follows on an earlier study by Knight Foundation and Nielsen in 2016, which looked at trends in news consumption on mobile devices.

Read the full report here.

About the study
In June and July of 2016, Knight Foundation commissioned a series of focus groups with 52 teenagers and young adults from across the United States to learn more about how young people conceptualize and consume news in digital spaces—with a focus on understanding the growing influence of mobile devices, social media and messaging apps. The research team conducted six exploratory focus groups of about 90 minutes each in three cities in the United States: Philadelphia, Chicago, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Participants were between the ages of 14 and 24 and included an even mix of young men and women.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Knight Foundation is a national foundation with strong local roots. We invest in journalism, in the arts, and in the success of cities where brothers John S. and James L. Knight once published newspapers. Our goal is to foster informed and engaged communities, which we believe are essential for a healthy democracy. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

As always, we welcome your feedback: [email protected].

Other reports and key findings:

Online Harassment, Digital Abuse, and Cyberstalking in America | methods | press release
Almost half (47%) of internet users have personally experienced online harassment or abuse. The types of online harassment discussed in the report fall into three broad categories:

  • 36% of internet users have experienced direct harassment, such as being called offensive names, being threatened physically, or being stalked.
  • 30% of internet users have experienced invasions of privacy, such as having sensitive information or images stolen and/or posted online, or having one’s online activity tracked.
  • 17% of internet users have experienced denial of access, such as receiving a large number of unwanted messages, having someone misuse a platform’s reporting tools to block them from using it, and Denial of Service (DoS) attacks.

Men and women are equally likely to face harassment, but women experience a wider variety of online abuse, including more serious violations. Young people and LGB Americans are also more likely to experience online harassment or abuse—and are more likely to be affected by it. They are more likely to feel scared or worried as a result of harassment, more likely to experience personal or professional harms as a result of harassment, and are often more likely to take protective measures—including self-censoring—in order to avoid future abuse.

Nonconsensual Image Sharing | press release
Media coverage of revenge porn largely focuses on instances when celebrities have had private nude or explicit photos or videos made public without their consent, but this experience is not limited to the famous and newsworthy. One in 25 Americans have had images shared or have had someone threaten to do so.

  • 3% of all online Americans have had someone threaten to post nude or nearly nude photos or videos of them online to hurt or embarrass them.
  • 2% of online Americans have had someone actually post a photo of them online without their permission.

Intimate Partner Digital Abuse | press release
12% of internet users who have been in a romantic relationship report that they have been digitally harassed or abused by a current or former romantic partner.

  • Three times as many younger people (22%) as those who were 30 years or older (8%) reported being digitally harassed by a current or former romantic partner.
  • 38% of individuals who identified as LGB have experienced intimate partner digital abuse, compared with 10% of heterosexual individuals.

Social Media Use by Americans, 2016 (Data Memo)
Young adults are more likely to use social media and discussion sites than older individuals, women are more likely to use social media than men.

  • 81% of American internet users use social media.
  • 16% of internet users use an online discussion site.



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