Understanding the impact of social media on online news

Published: 25 March 2024

This research examines how online intermediaries, especially social media, can influence today's news landscape.

Online intermediaries — like search engines, social media sites or apps, and news aggregators — exert a significant influence on how we read news online. Along with emerging technology like generative AI, these services are disrupting how we create, verify, distribute and access news.

Building on our existing evidence base, Ofcom carried out three new studies to explore online intermediaries' influence over how online news is curated and presented, and the impact this has on people and news publishers. We focus on social media in particular.

Our report summarises the findings of these studies and insights from new academic literature.

Online news: research update

Newyddion ar-lein: diweddariad ymchwil

What we found, at a glance

  • The ranking of news content in a social media feed has a substantial impact on the amount of time people spend viewing, reading, and engaging with news content.
  • Social media platforms expose people to a lot of different news outlets. However, they tend to expose them to a narrower range of news topics than they might encounter on a traditional news website.
  • People have limited control over their social media news feeds, so trying to design interventions to improve the breadth and quality of news consumed on social media is a complex task.

Supporting research

Our report has been informed by a range of evidence, including new research:

Media plurality online: attention to news on social media (Annex 1)

Ofcom commissioned Lumen Research to carry out an online experiment using eye tracking technology to study the attention given to news items in a social media feed.

Media plurality online: attention to news on social media

Online intermediaries and the diversity of news content (Annex 2)

This Ofcom research examines people’s news diets when they use online intermediaries and how this compares to people that go directly to news websites. The analysis uses a new technique which looks directly at the text of individual news articles that people have read to identify the topics that are covered in their news diet using natural language processing.

Online intermediaries and the diversity of news content

Online news qualitative research (Annex 3)

Ofcom commissioned Ipsos to carry out this qualitative study, which blended qualitative interviews with passive observations to explore how user behaviours changed (or did not) in response to different interventions. The study tested some potential interventions that, according to the existing literature, could have had a positive impact on peoples’ news diets.

Online news qualitative research

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