Facebook Is the News, in 2 Charts

Facebook dwarfs all other social news distribution outlets, even Twitter.
It’s all right, you can smile, Mark. (Reuters)

It’s an odd, busy time for social networks. The two giants—Facebook and Twitter—are fighting over users feature-by-feature.

Today, for instance, Facebook-owned Instagram announced a private photo messaging product. Two days ago, Twitter unveiled the same.

The fight intensifies around news consumption: Facebook proper is trying to make itself the home of the real-time Internet, seizing that mantle (implicitly) from Twitter. It’s doing this partly by adjusting the algorithm which controls what content makes it to users’s News Feeds, serving more “high-quality” news articles than it has in a long time. And news publishers, in turn, have seen a surge of traffic from Facebook.

But can such a strategy work? I think it might. These two graphs helped me understand why. Both come from a report from the Pew Research Journalism Project on social networks and news.

Here’s the first one. It graphs the percentage of U.S. adults who use a social network against the percentage of U.S. adults who get news from that service:

Sure: A slightly higher percentage of Twitter users get their news from Twitter as compared to Facebook. But what sticks out to me is that almost four times the number of U.S. adults get their news from Facebook as get their news from Twitter.

This survey was conducted in August and early September, slightly before Facebook began sorting for “high-quality content.” It’s highly likely the number of Facebook news readers is even higher now, and that Facebook might coerce some of those holdouts if it becomes “the best personalized newspaper in the world.”

But what about the news junkies who use Twitter or another social network as their main news provider? Could they be talked into ceding to Facebook? 

Check this graph. It looks at the number of news-readers on any social platform who also get news via another platform. The left side shows news consumers on one platform, and the right side follows them to see where else they consume news—so track that topmost orange line, for instance, and you’ll find that 21 percent of people who get news on Facebook also get news from YouTube.

The most important part of the graph is the section to the upper left, because it reveals most of the people who get news from a non-Facebook social network also get their news from Facebook. A majority. That’s true of no other network—in fact, no other network captures a majority of another networks’s news consumers.

These charts indicate to me: Not only does Facebook have an audience already looking for news through the service, but also it already has a majority of other networks’s audiences. Maybe if it just tilts its algorithm a little, or tailors how much “news” appears on people’s feeds, it can capture the bulk of those users’s news use.


via Jesse Holcomb

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Robinson Meyer is an associate editor at The Atlantic, where he covers technology.

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