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WhatsApp grows in importance as a news source

News, 23 June 2017
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GLOBAL: WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned instant messaging service, is emerging as an increasingly important platform for news coverage, according to a new global survey of more than 71,000 people.

The latest Digital News Report from the Oxford-based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the use of WhatsApp is starting to rival Facebook in a number of global markets.

These include Malaysia, where more than half (51%) of respondents said they use WhatsApp for sharing or discussing news in a given week, with high proportions also noted in Brazil (51%) and Spain (32%). By contrast, the figure was only 3% in the US and 5% in the UK.

Now in its sixth year, the survey covered 34 countries, as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong, and unearthed a mass of detail about consumers' attitudes towards the news and social media at a time when the issue of "fake news" has become a concern.

Consumers' mistrust of online news was underlined by the finding that only a quarter (24%) of global consumers thought social media sites did a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% who thought the same of mainstream media.

However, there were wide variations in trust across the countries surveyed, with trust in the news highest in Finland (62%), but lowest in Greece and South Korea (23%).

According to Nic Newman, Research Associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, the survey revealed a strong connection in most countries between distrust in the media and perceived political bias. And this was particularly true in countries with high levels of political polarisation, such as the US, Italy, and Hungary.

Elsewhere, the report noted that mobile is outstripping desktop for accessing the news in an increasing number of countries.

Mobile news notifications have grown significantly in the last year, especially in the US (+8 percentage points), South Korea (+7), and Australia (+4), leading Newman to observe that mobile is "becoming an important new route to content".

In a related development, there has been significant growth in mobile news aggregators, notably Apple News, but also Snapchat Discover for younger audiences, with both doubling usage within their target groups over the last year.

The report also found a significant increase in the number of consumers prepared to pay for online news, especially among those aged 35 and under, and it noted a "Trump bump" in the US where those prepared to pay online increased from 9% to 16% year-on-year.

In other findings, the report noted that ad-blocking growth has stalled on desktop (21%) and remains low on smartphones (7%), while voice-activated digital assistants, such as Amazon Echo, are emerging as a new platform for news.

Commenting on the global trends identified in the survey, Newman said: "This year's survey does at least include some more optimistic signs; the emergence of donations and other evidence of public support for journalism should encourage non-profits.

"The uptick in subscriptions in the United States is helpful, but is unlikely to be enough on its own. Ad blockers may be in abeyance but the problem of getting display advertising to work on a mobile screen is yet to be solved."

Data sourced from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism; additional content by WARC staff

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