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Race, ethnicity, and the use of social media for news

One of the major findings of this research, across all groups, is the finding that Millennials are far more interested in news and information than other research might have indicated. The project identified this, or broke with past research, not by simply tracking where Millennials went online but by looking in more detail than past studies at what topics and information they looked at when they got there.

Some previous researchers had begun to worry that Millennials might be less curious or engaged in the world around them because they were less inclined to visit traditional news destinations online, such as newspapers and television websites, and to consume legacy media in other platforms, such as watching TV newscasts or reading print newspapers. Instead, they spent more time in social networks, such as Facebook.

This Media Insight Project, however, found that while social networks played a preeminent role in the digital lives of Millennials, across all ethnicities, these networks were now far more than social. Millennials are not only consuming news on these social networks; they are consuming more than they intended to when they go on the networks, they are engaging with the news, and they are being exposed to a wider range of topics and opinions than many suspect.

And this news orientation and level of conscious navigation held true across different ethnic groups. There are, however, some differences in the social networks that the various racial and ethnic groups use.

Facebook plays a preeminent role in the news and information lives of all Millennials across ethnic groups.

Of the seven social networking sites the survey asked about, Millennials most often name Facebook as the site they visit at least once a day to get news and information. Overall, 57 percent of Millennials say they get news and information from Facebook at least once a day, another 24 percent say they get news and information from Facebook at least once a week, and another 8 percent say they get news and information from Facebook less than once a week. Just 12 percent say they never get news and information from Facebook. The proportions of Millennials who say they get news from Facebook does not vary by race and ethnicity.

Whites African Americans Hispanics
At least daily 56% 53% 53%
Several times a week or less 31% 38% 33%
Never 13% 9% 14%

Data Source: Question: How often, if at all, do you get news and information from each of the following?

Media Insight Project

The reasons Millennials turn to Facebook for news and information are varied. A majority of Millennials say they use Facebook to get more information on something they heard on social media or in the news (70 percent), to see what’s happening in friends’ lives and what they are talking about (69 percent), and to find things that are entertaining (53 percent). Fewer say they use Facebook to look for interesting articles their friends have posted (42 percent), to tell people what’s going on or to share content (38 percent), and to see what’s “trending” and what people are talking about on social media (31 percent).

White, African American, and Hispanic Millennials have significantly different motivations when it comes to why they use Facebook. Whites are more likely than African Americans and Hispanics to use Facebook to see what’s happening in their friends’ lives (74 percent vs. 62 percent vs. 55 percent). African Americans are more likely than whites and Hispanics to use Facebook to see what’s “trending” (41 percent vs. 29 percent vs. 24 percent). And African Americans are more likely than Hispanics to say they use Facebook to tell people what’s going on in their lives.

% All Millennials % Whites % African Americans % Hispanics
To get more information on something in the news 70% 72% 68% 72%
To see what’s happening in friends’ lives and what they are talking about 69% 74% 62% 55%
To find things that are entertaining 53% 50% 53% 49%
To look for interesting articles friends have posted 42% 42% 41% 39%
To tell people what’s going on or to share content 38% 39% 45% 29%
To see what’s “trending” and what people are talking about on social media 31% 29% 41% 24%

Data Source: Question: Which of these, if any, are the main reasons that you use Facebook? Please select all that apply.

Media Insight Project

Yet, once they are logged in, Millennials across racial and ethnic groups tend to behave in similar ways on Facebook, at least in terms of engagement with the news. A majority of Millennials say they read or watch news stories posted by others on Facebook (70 percent) and “like” a news story they see posted to Facebook (60 percent). Fewer say they personally post or share news stories to Facebook (42 percent) or comment on a news story posted to Facebook (34 percent).

The data reveal just one significant difference between racial and ethnic groups in news engagement activities on Facebook: African Americans (48 percent) are more likely than whites (30 percent) and Hispanics (29 percent) to say they comment on news stories posted to Facebook.

% All Millennials % Whites % African Americans % Hispanics
Read or watch news stories posted by others on Facebook 70% 74% 63% 63%
“Like” a news story posted to Facebook 60% 59% 69% 58%
Post or share a news story to Facebook 42% 37% 48% 48%
Comment on a news story posted to Facebook 34% 30% 48% 29%
None of these 11% 12% 4% 12%

Data Source: Question: When you’re on Facebook, do you regularly do any of the following? Please select all that apply.

Media Insight Project

The use of other social media platforms for news varies by race and ethnicity.

Other social media platforms are more popular for getting news and information amongst racial and ethnic minorities. Both African Americans and Hispanics, for instance, are more likely than whites to get news and information at least once a day from YouTube (33 percent vs. 38 percent vs. 20 percent). African American and Hispanic Millennials are also significantly more likely to get news from Instagram (45 percent vs. 30 percent vs. 19 percent for whites).

There are no significant differences in news use by race and ethnicity for Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, or Tumblr.

White African American Hispanic
YouTube 20% 33% 38%
Instagram 19% 45% 30%
Twitter 14% 16% 11%
Pinterest 9% 14% 15%
Reddit 7% 10% 6%
Tumblr 5% 9% 11%

Media Insight Project

Whites, African Americans, and Hispanics have adapted their use of social networks in different ways over time.

Fully 86 percent of Millennials have changed their use of social networks over time in at least one of the six ways covered in the survey, including changing the networks they use for different purposes or removing certain types of information, and this doesn’t vary significantly across racial and ethnic groups.

Yet, when looking at specific examples of how Millennials have changed the way they use social networks over time, several demographic differences emerge.

Whites are more likely than Hispanics to say they have removed information or photos of themselves that are embarrassing or immature (41 percent vs. 29 percent) and to say they have tailored the way they use social networks, with different networks serving different purposes (41 percent vs. 24 percent). African Americans fall in the middle, as 34 percent say they have removed embarrassing information or photos of themselves from social networks, and 31 percent say they have tailored their use of social networks.

When it comes to paying more attention to and controlling privacy settings on social networks, whites are more likely than African Americans to say they have done so (55 percent vs. 44 percent). Here, Hispanics fall in the middle, with 50 percent saying they now pay more attention to and control their privacy settings.

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