A recent study by Oxford University's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism suggests that levels of trust in news on digital platforms are lower than the trust placed in news in general.
The study, published on Thursday, 22 September, also suggested that 54 percent of people trust the news they receive on WhatsApp and use the app to keep up with news on a daily basis.
Drawing on an original dataset of survey responses collected in 2022 across Brazil, India, the UK, and the US, the study examines "the relationship between trust in news and how people think about news on digital platforms," including Facebook, Google, WhatsApp, and YouTube.
Here's a breakdown of the major findings.
Trust Higher in India Compared to Brazil, UK & US
The study found that across Brazil, India, the UK, and the US, levels of trust in news on social media, search engines, and messaging apps are "consistently lower than audience trust in information in the news media more generally."
Trust was also "considerably higher across the board" in India, compared to the other three countries.
Seventy-seven percent of the respondents in India trusted the news media in general. Forty-one percent of the respondents trusted news on Facebook, 51 percent trusted news on Google, 27 percent trusted news on Instagram, 15 percent on TikTok, 25 percent on Twitter, 54 percent on WhatsApp, and 51 percent on YouTube.
A large part of this trust gap between news and news on digital platforms, according to the study, is explained by lower levels of trust among people who do not use these platforms – they tend to be older, less educated, and less politically interested.
The study also indicates that younger, college educated, politically interested people are more likely to trust news both on and off platforms. In India, those who are politically interested trust news the most on YouTube and the least on TikTok.
Despite Lower Trust, Platforms Broadly Favoured
Despite comparatively lower trust in news on platforms, many people hold broadly positive feelings towards them, the report shows. Google and YouTube are favoured across countries, but WhatsApp is looked at positively in Brazil and India.
Across countries, Google fares the best when it comes to trust in platforms for news. In the US, people trust it more than they trust news in general.
Despite positive feelings towards most platforms, most people in all four countries agree that false and misleading information, harassment, and platforms using data irresponsibly are "big problems" across platforms.
In the US and UK, Facebook in particular was singled out when it came to these problems. In India and Brazil, broader majorities saw such problems as applicable to all four platforms.
Most People Don't Come to Platforms for News
Many of the most common reasons people use digital platforms have little to do with news, the study suggests.
"For most platforms, people are more likely to say they use them to connect with other people in their lives or for entertainment or to pass the time rather than to find out information about current affairs," it says.
In India, 46 percent of the people surveyed use WhatsApp for news on a daily basis. In Brazil, this figure was 58 percent. In the UK and the US, Google is the preferred way of accessing news digitally. TikTok is the least favoured everywhere.
Negative Perceptions About Journalism Widespread
According to the study, negative perceptions about journalism are widespread, and social media is one of the most often-cited places people say they see or hear criticism of news and journalism.
"As many as half the respondents in all four countries say they believe journalists try to manipulate audiences to serve the agendas of powerful politicians or care more about getting attention than reporting the facts," it says.
Only 57 percent of the respondents in India think journalists independently verify the information they report, while 58 percent believe journalists "try to manipulate the public to serve the agendas of powerful politicians."
News about politics is viewed as particularly suspect and platforms are seen by many as contentious places for political conversation – at least for those most interested in politics.