How Millennials consume news — and what it means for 2016

Some recent studies confirm what many of us already suspected: how you get your political news depends on your age — and your generation. But the younger generation isn’t as out of touch as you might think.

A study by the Pew Research Center for Journalism & Media says that 61 percent of those in the Millennial generation — people 18 to 33 years old — report getting political news from Facebook in a given week. Only 37 percent get news from watching television.

Conversely, Baby Boomers (ages 50 to 68 years old), many of whom grew up watching the evening news at home, get 60 percent of their news from television. Only 39 percent report getting most of their news online from social media.

“Social media look to be the local TV of the Millennial generation,” the Pew study says.

Gen Xers, who bridge the age gap between Millennials and Baby Boomers, fall right in the middle. “Roughly half (51%) of online Gen Xers get political and government news on Facebook in a given week, and about half (46%) do so on local TV,” the report said.

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Another new study by the Media Insight Project, a collaboration of the American Press Institute and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, shows that 69 percent of Millennials get news at least once a day, and 40 percent look for news several times a day.

And it’s not just soft stuff. “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,” the Media Insight Project study says. Forty-five percent “regularly” follow five or more hard-news topics. The study adds that 88 percent get news from Facebook regularly.

All of this is no surprise to observers who see a generation of younger people who can’t seem to put down their smartphones. But exactly what kind of political news are they seeing and reading on social media?

“A longer-term question that arises from this data is what younger Americans’ reliance on social media for news might mean for the political system,” the Pew study says. “Understanding the nuances of the social media news environment is complicated: The experience is individualized through one’s own choices, through the friends in one’s network and their proclivities, and through algorithms -– all of which can change over time. We are only beginning to understand these complex interactions.”

Consider your own experience with social media, whether it’s Facebook or another medium. You have “friended” a variety of people, but most likely those with similar mindsets; otherwise, why would you be friends with them in the first place?

Your Facebook friends post things of interest to them. Besides cat videos, family photos, vacation shots, and Buzzfeed quizzes, many share news stories and op-eds that reflect their own political beliefs.

Also interesting are the circumstances when people “unfriend” someone, and why they’re doing it. According to a study at the University of Colorado at Denver and described in a story in The Atlantic, the four biggest reasons for unfriending someone were “frequent/unimportant posts, polarizing posts (politics and religion), inappropriate posts (sexist, racist remarks), and everyday life posts (child, spouse, eating habits, etc.) and in that order of frequency.”

In other words, once you dismiss the people who are overdoing it, you get to the heart of social issues: politics and religion, followed by inappropriate and offensive posts that are sexist, racist, or probably homophobic. If you disagree with friends’ or relatives’ posts, you might unfriend them — or at least block that kind of content.

Conversely, if you agree with the sentiments of the posts, you’ve no doubt hit the “like” button, so you’re getting more and regular information from those outlets with the same political views.

If you’re offended by the kinds of inappropriate posts named above, you might have unfriended a Facebook friend or two. If, on the other hand, your views are parallel to those inappropriate posts, you’ve no doubt hit the “like” button, so you’re getting more online information with those political views.

In a separate report from the same study, the Pew researchers conclude that there’s also a difference in the way conservatives and liberals get and digest political news. Hard-line conservatives are loath to watch anything but Fox, and when on Facebook, they are “more likely than those in other ideological groups to hear political opinions that are in line with their own views” and “are more likely to have friends who share their own political views,” the Pew study says.

On the liberal side, liberals get their news from a wider array of sources. But they “are more likely than those in other ideological groups to block or ‘defriend’ someone on a social network -– as well as to end a personal friendship -– because of politics.” They also “are more likely to follow issue-based groups, rather than political parties or candidates, in their Facebook feeds.”

That practice also is more common with older viewer than with younger ones. “It is the Facebook users in the oldest of the three generations studied here who are most likely to see political content on the site that supports their own views: 31% of Baby Boomers on Facebook who pay attention to political posts say the posts they see are mostly or always in line with their own views, higher than both Generation Xers (21%) and Millennials (18%),” the Pew study says.

The Media Insight Project study goes even further. Once Millennials encounter news, “nearly 9 in 10 report usually seeing diverse opinions, and three-quarters of those report investigating opinions different than their own.”

Millennials look elsewhere online, too. “Facebook is not the only social network Millennials use for news,” the report continues. “On average, those surveyed get news from more than three social media platforms — including YouTube (83 percent), and Instagram (50 percent), and places of active involvement such as Reddit.”

So, 2016 candidates: If you want to reach out to young voters, reach out to them on all social media platforms. Don’t talk down to them, and deliver something of substance.

After all, what people seek out on social media is more than just a photo of Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner in a form-fitting swimsuit.

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