Social media: A lot of people use it, but not a lot of people trust it

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Despite the meteoric rise of social media as a source for information, most Floridians still trust television over social media to get their news.  That is one of the findings from a University of Florida study about news consumption habits and trust in news.

Researchers from the UF College of Journalism and Communications, Bureau of Economic and Business Research, and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences conducted the survey in November with 443 randomly selected respondents across the state of Florida. Florida is the third largest state and is often considered a bellwether of opinions nationally. The margin of error on the survey is 5 percent.

The survey is part of UF's newly launched Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology, which will address declining levels of trust in American institutions, where lack of trust in media is at a critical stage. UF aims to establish itself as the leader on research to discover what leads to trust in news outlets, such as social media, and how new technology, practices and policies can be developed to increase trust in news sources.

According to the Pew Research Center, Facebook remains the primary social media platform for most Americans. Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68 percent) now report that they are Facebook users, and roughly three-quarters of those users access Facebook on a daily basis. Further, the video-sharing site YouTube is now used by nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults and 94 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds.

"Even though Americans are heavy users of social media, and often look at news on social media, they don't seem to trust it as much as they do more traditional news sources," said Diane McFarlin, dean of the College of Journalism and Communications. "At the same time, trust in traditional news sources is declining, which poses real risks to our democracy."

Some of the other key findings of the survey include:

  • Television remains the leading source for news.
  • Facebook and "friends and family" are on par with traditional newspapers in being listed as a news source.
  • Twitter was the platform least likely to be listed as a news source.
  • Respondents rated local cable news as much more trustworthy than social media for news regarding the 2018 election.
  • The creator of the content is the main factor in determining an article's trustworthiness on social media, as opposed to who posted it, or how popular the post is.
  • About three-quarters of respondents do not believe a person's primary social media profile is a good representation of who s/he is.
  • The vast majority of respondents believe that social media sites would not refrain from using personal information for other purposes and that social media sites don't protect personal information.

"Florida is a diverse state and, as the recent election has shown, we're pretty evenly divided politically," McFarlin said. "That may play a role in the news we trust. By analyzing this data, we're hoping to understand not only what sources individuals trust, but what type of person is more likely to trust one source over another. Clearly we need to do more research to understand the rapidly evolving landscape of trust in news and social media, which is one of the goals of this new consortium."

The Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology is part of a University-wide initiative, which identified eight challenges in which UF researchers could apply their knowledge and skills to make a difference in people's lives.  The University is providing $1.25 million in seed funding to help launch the Consortium. 

UF will hold a kickoff conference for the Consortium in January.

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