A new comprehensive study that looks closely at how people learn about the world on these different devices and platforms finds that this newest generation of American adults is anything but “newsless,” passive, or civically uninterested.
Millennials consume news and information in strikingly different ways than previous generations, and their paths to discovery are more nuanced and varied than some may have imagined, according to the new study by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Rather than having a narrowing effect on what Millennials know about, however, the data suggest this form of discovery may widen awareness.
Virtually all Millennials, for instance, regularly consume a mix of hard news, lifestyle news, and practical “news you can use,” the study finds. Millennials are more likely to report following politics, crime, technology, their local community, and social issues than report following popular culture and celebrities, or style and fashion. Fully 45 percent of these young adults regularly follow five or more “hard news” topics.
Among the study’s findings:
- While Millennials are highly equipped, it is not true they are constantly connected. More than 90 percent of adults age 18-34 surveyed own smartphones, and half own tablets. But only half (51 percent) say they are online most or all of the day.
- Email is the most common digital activity, but news is a significant part of the online lives of Millennials, as well. Fully 69 percent report getting news at least once a day — 40 percent several times a day.
- Contrary to the idea that social media creates a polarizing “filter bubble,” exposing people to only a narrow range of opinions, 70 percent of Millennials say that their social media feeds are comprised of diverse viewpoints evenly mixed between those similar to and different from their own. An additional 16 percent say their feeds contain mostly viewpoints different from their own. And nearly three-quarters of those exposed to different views (73 percent) report they investigate others’ opinions at least some of the time — with a quarter saying they do it always or often.
- Facebook has become a nearly ubiquitous part of digital Millennial life. On 24 separate news and information topics probed, Facebook was the No. 1 gateway to learn about 13 of those, and the second-most cited gateway for seven others.
- At the same time, younger Millennials express growing frustration with Facebook, and there are signals in the research that the use of social media will continue to splinter with time.
- Younger Millennials use more social networks (an average of four) than older ones (who average three). They are also more likely than older ones to have cut back on their social media use or dropped a social network completely. In our longer interviews, these younger Millennials describe Facebook like a utility they have to use rather than one they enjoy.