(Note: This post first appeared on the Voce blog)
What Is It: The Pew Research Center is out with a new study showing 61% of Millennials – broadly defined as anyone born after 1980 – get political news primarily from Facebook, almost exactly the opposite proportion of those in the Baby Boom generation, for whom local TV news still dominates.
What Does This Mean: There are all sorts of interesting data finds in the study that are well worth reading, particularly those that deal with how trusting members of the various demographic groups are of media. But the question that should cause the most discussion isn’t raised until the end and it’s roughly this: What does it mean that so many people are getting their news through social media?
The answer is incredibly complex and requires consideration of a multitude of factors, but at the core it comes down to how some social networks, particularly Facebook, are filtering the user experience in ways that sometimes can’t be controlled and are invisible to the audience, who often aren’t even aware there are filters being applied which a vast swath of people aren’t.
Facebook recently released a study where they essentially washed their hands of responsibility and said people themselves for whatever diversity they were or weren’t seeing in their Newsfeeds. While that may be true (to an extent…Facebook is still ultimately the one that governs the algorithm that creates the Newsfeed), the results of getting your news from a system that’s almost uniquely designed to reinforce your own point of view and limit outside opinions is felt well outside of Facebook and informs people’s behavior on a local, state and federal level.
Facebook plays a unique role in today’s information ecosystem, as this new study shows starkly. But the impact of that role is, I’d wager, only beginning to be felt.