On TikTok, millions of Americans watch choreographed dance videos, cooking demonstrations and someone on a skateboard drinking cranberry juice. It’s also where more and more young Americans get their news.
Among American adults, addiction to TikTok for news content has roughly tripled since 2020, rising from 3% to 10% over the past two years. More than a quarter of American adults under the age of 30 now regularly use TikTok for messaging, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center. This goes against a larger national trend. Fewer Americans have been consistently checking for news on social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Snapchat, since 2020, according to Pew data.
Pew may even be underestimating the Chinese platform’s impact on US news consumption, since it didn’t survey tens of millions of TikTok users under the age of 18. Nearly two-thirds of US teens between the ages of 12 and 17 use TikTok, an even higher proportion than the 57% who report using Instagram.
The political controversy on TikTok
TikTok rose to social media dominance after launching in 2016, attracting more than 1 billion users within five years (it took Facebook more than 10 years to reach this milestone). Today, TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance are thriving despite losing access to its largest market, India, because of military tensions between China and India, as well as the US government’s escalating concerns about national security and privacy (concerns reinforced by recent reports will). that US user data is accessed from mainland China).
Despite its popularity, TikTok is often not a reliable news source. Like many other platforms, TikTok is full of conspiracy theories, political misinformation, and health misinformation. It has also come under increasing criticism for how it moderates content. Content critical of the Chinese government was reportedly blocked, including posts about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, the Tiananmen Square massacre and Tibetan independence. TikTok’s chief operating officer recently assured US senators that no company executives have ties to the Chinese Communist Party, but big tech companies in China are increasingly subject to the dictates of Beijing’s ruling party, including the company’s proprietary search and detection algorithms.
News outlets want TikTok’s young audience
TikTok’s role in news distribution is still evolving, says Andrew Grant, a spokesperson for Pew. Right now, a higher proportion of Twitter viewers still rely on the platform for news (53%), while only 33% of TikTok users rely on it for news, comparable to Reddit (37%) or YouTube (30%).
That hasn’t stopped US news organizations from flocking to TikTok to reach new audiences. The Washington Post was one of the first major US news organizations to have a TikTok presence in 2019. For now, the Post’s TikTok account is primarily a way to introduce young people to the newspaper, said senior video reporter Dave Jorgenson, who provided jokes and commentary on the news in 2019.
But others treat it more like a different way of delivering messages, condensing their content into the short, bite-sized video clips typical of the platform. The New York Times’ Jamelle Bouie, CNN’s Max Foster and BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire read the news or provide political analysis on the app. NBC News is producing a show titled Stay Tuned for TikTok. NowThis has a robust presence that covers a variety of news topics.
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