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How digital platforms impact trust in news: Key findings from Reuters Institute

Trust in news on digital platforms is influenced by multiple factors including the nature of the platforms themselves, the demographic accessing them, as well as the general discourse. New Reuters report offers a deep dive for publishers.

A recent Reuters report reveals that audiences are generally less trusting of news on most digital platforms than they are of news in general. This is because news is usually a secondary concern for people visiting digital platforms, especially social media. Most report using them for entertainment or connecting with friends and family.

The report, “The Trust Gap: How and Why News on Digital Platforms Is Viewed More Sceptically Versus News in General,” examines the relationship between trust in news and how people think about news on digital platforms. It is based on surveys done in the UK, the US, India and Brazil in the summer of 2022. 

“Existential challenge facing the industry”

“While there is widespread concern that the growing use of platforms to access information has contributed to declining trust in journalism in many places around the world, our findings indicate a more nuanced possibility,” the authors note. “Most intriguingly, we do not find lower trust in news among those who use platforms most frequently and access news there, but rather lower trust among those who access news elsewhere or consume less news overall.”

The challenge for news publishers, according to the report, “may be less about an erosion of trust due to their being seen on platforms and more about being seen at all in these spaces.” 

For disconnected and disengaged audiences, indifference rather than growing hostility towards news may be the more insidious and ultimately existential challenge facing the industry.

The Trust Gap, Reuters Institute

Google, the most trusted platform for news

Levels of trust with regard to news varies across platforms. Google is among the most trusted across all four countries (57% in Brazil, 77% in India, 52% in the UK, and 53% in the US). Facebook is the least trusted in the UK (27%) and the US (29%). This indicates that “how people think about news on platforms may depend on what they associate with doing while using these services.” Most people across all four countries use Google to get information and stay up-to-date, explaining the high level of trust in news on it. 

The trust gap also varies depending on the demographic - younger, college-educated, politically interested people are more likely to trust news both on and off platforms. Other important findings include:

  • Those who trust news on platforms are often quite similar in profile to those who trust information in the news media in general
  • Trust tends to be highest among those who access news most frequently
  • The profile of people who use platforms tends to include people who use more news

Those who say they access news on platforms daily or more frequently also tend to exhibit higher levels of trust in news relative to those who do not use platforms at all, or those who do so but rarely or never get news from them.

The Trust Gap, Reuters Institute

“Audiences perceive news on different platforms differently”

People’s trust levels are also influenced by what others think about information on social media, this includes factors like how many have liked or shared a post and what they find in the comments section.

“As audiences devote more of their time and attention to using digital platforms, it poses countless challenges for news organizations around the world,” the authors note. “As a trade-off for expanding reach and scale, newsrooms have often ceded considerable control to these outside companies in terms of how their content is distributed and how often and in what form their work appears on these services.”

The trust gap, they add, “is likely a reflection of this mismatch in audience perceptions about what platforms are for, the kinds of information they get when using these services, and how people think more generally about news media.” 

Although pursuing younger audiences (who devote less time and attention to legacy media) on digital platforms makes sense, it makes publishers vulnerable to the changing strategies of these spaces. Mismatched audience expectations may also put them at a disadvantage. “Audiences do perceive news on different platforms differently and say they use them for sometimes distinct purposes,” the authors write. “That insight is an important one for news organizations that seek to engage with audiences in these spaces.” 

They suggest publishers “cultivate brand familiarity by connecting with audiences both online and offline.”

While news organizations cannot simply ignore the way their content is seen on platforms, they cannot depend on them either as a basis for building lasting relationships with audiences.

The Trust Gap, Reuters Institute

The full report can be downloaded from Reuters Institute:
The Trust Gap: How and Why News on Digital Platforms Is Viewed More Sceptically Versus News in General