Fewer people are using Facebook to discover and discuss news

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A new study has suggested that fewer people are discovering news on Facebook.

The seventh annual Digital News Report said the fall in users accessing news on Facebook reflected concerns about privacy and the toxic nature of debate.

Changes to Facebook’s algorithms, which had de-prioritised news in people’s feeds, had also played a part. The report sought to explore how people accessed news around the world. The research, by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, at the University of Oxford, was based on a YouGov online survey of 74,000 people in 37 countries.

It suggested young audiences were more likely to use WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat for news, partly because there was a growing desire to discuss news in relative privacy. The proportion of those surveyed that accessed news via WhatsApp had tripled in four years, to 15%. This tended to be much higher in countries, such as Malaysia and Turkey, where it can be dangerous to express views in more open networks.

Report lead author Nic Newman said: “We’re seeing many switching their focus to more personal, private spaces like messaging apps for sharing and discussing news.

“This gives people more control over where and how they engage, but also potentially makes public debate and news distribution even more fragmented and opaque.”

Using Facebook for news has declined in a number of countries. In the US, for example, consumption is down 9% compared with 2017.

And focus groups suggested this was partly due to the way people debated issues on the platform.

“I’ve actually pulled back from using Facebook a lot since the whole political landscape changed over the last few years because I just find everyone’s got an opinion,” said one person, based in the UK.

Facebook’s decision to change its algorithms to favour posts of friends rather than external news also played a part in the decline of news on its platform, the report said, although much of the polling for the survey had been completed before the changes had taken effect.

In other countries, there was little subscription growth, the report said, although in the US the so-called Trump bump had continued as people signed up to digital services in order to follow the political twists and turns of the Trump presidency.

Most of those polled were unaware of financial problems in the news industry, but more were willing to pay a subscription or give a donation if they had been made aware of them.

“The verdict is clear – people find that some news is worth paying for, but much of it is not,” said Prof Nielsen.

Read more via BBC News.