People who are “overwhelmed” by the 24-hour news cycle are prioritising “quantity over depth in their news intake”, according to new research by broadcast regulator Ofcom.
Ofcom’s research followed 22 individuals in the UK aged 16 to 67, who were asked to fill out a media diary over the course of a week before being interviewed on their news consumption.
Respondents predominantly consumed their news online, describing social media as “much quicker” and “more relevant” than traditional news sources such as newspapers and TV bulletins.
“You look at a newspaper and its yesterday’s news,” said one respondent. “Why would you look at that when you can get today’s news on your phone?”
Respondents also described feelings of being “overwhelmed” and “sensory overload” in response to the 24-hour online news cycle.
Ofcom claims that this has led to a more passive consumption of news and a focus on quantity over depth. Many of the respondents could not recall the key details or facts of stories they had read.
Asked about a particular news story, one said: “I don’t remember who was involved… I remember that [Donald] Trump said something. I’d have to go back to read it again and check.”
As part of the research, respondents were asked to be more “active” in consuming news online and on social media by voicing their thoughts aloud as they scrolled through the likes of Facebook and Twitter.
Ofcom said this led to some realising that they were “not actually very interested by a lot of what was in their newsfeeds”.
It also led to an inability to critically assess news stories or the source that the news had come from.
“I’ve been viewing the news for a few years now and you just start to pick up when it doesn’t seem legit,” said one participant.
Another added: “I wouldn’t think to fact check something myself, I’d just tend to assume it’s fact, and assume it’s authentic.”
For one user, including an image was enough to give credibility to an article. They said: “If I look at a news article and it’s got an image, straight away I’m like, yeah it’s trustworthy. That is my shortcut.”
The predominance of what Ofcom described as “social media-led news” has encouraged it to look into the possibility of regulating platforms such as Google and Facebook.
In a piece for The Times, Sharon White, the head of Ofcom said: “The argument for independent regulatory oversight of their activities has never been stronger.”
She added: “Online companies need to be much more accountable when it comes to curating and policing the content on their platforms, where this risks harm to the public.”
In separate research, also published on Friday last week, Ofcom revealed that many people did not understand terms such as “fake news” and “echo chambers”, despite being aware of them.
This second report was carried out between January and March 2018 with 96 participants across the UK. It looked into the reasons why people chose different news sources.
The report found similar issues surrounding news consumption online with Ofcom reporting people had more information but often felt less informed, with social media being the least trusted source for news.
Ofcom plans to outline how independent regulation of social media sites could work in the autumn.