“The more you interact with news articles shared by the publishers you like—be it clicking on them and reading or resharing them in your own feed—the more Facebook will know that you want to see that type of content,” Isaac said. “In a nutshell, if you’re already a news hound, just keep doing what you’re doing.”
That brings us to the new Pew report. According to the research organization, only a sliver of Americans appear to be doing what news hounds are doing. While a decisive majority of Americans appear to get their news through social networks, very few of them actually engage with stories in ways that would signal to Facebook’s algorithms they want to see news.
First, the good news for publishers (as it were). Eighty-one percent of Americans get some of their news though websites, apps, or social platforms. While TV is still the most popular news source for Americans—57 percent of U.S. adults “often” get their news from television—that’s mostly due to its popularity among older people. In essence, the older you are, the more likely you are to like TV. More than 70 percent of Americans older than 50 “often” watch TV news; less than 50 percent of Americans younger than that do. Meanwhile, only about a quarter of 20-somethings and college students are regular TV news watchers—but 50 percent of them are regular online news consumers.
But then the findings look much more unfortunate, especially when read in tandem with the Facebook changes. Even after last week’s modifications, News Feed still prioritizes news in two different scenarios. If your Facebook friends share news stories, it’s “friend-approved content” and you’re more likely to see it. (“Friend-approved content” is not even close to an official phrase.) And if you opt to like, share, or comment on news posts on Facebook, you’ll see more of it.
The Pew finds that neither of those two things happen very often. Only about a quarter of social-media users regularly click through to read a news story on social media—the most basic form of engagement. Just 16 percent of social-media users often “like” a news story. Only 11 percent of people often share news stories on social media. And eight percent of Americans regularly comment on news articles—which, given the odiousness of this website’s comment threads, may be a good thing.
These numbers didn’t meaningfully correlate to generational divides: Both older and younger people engaged with the news online in roughly equal measure. But all these numbers do significantly rise when they include people who engage with the news “sometimes.” Eighty percent of Americans often or sometimes click on a news story, for instance, and 49 percent share or repost news stories. Still, a minority of people regularly engage with the news online in most algorithmically-recognizable ways.