TikTok becoming go-to news source for UK teens, Ofcom survey reveals

Report finds that video-sharing app is the favourite news source for 12 to 15-year-olds

UK teens turn to video-sharing app TikTok for news, outpacing traditional media sources. Reuters
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TikTok, the Chinese-owned video-sharing app, has become the single most-used news source across all social media platforms among British teenagers, UK regulator Ofcom has said.

According to Ofcom's News Consumption in the UK 2022/23 report, the video-sharing platform is the favourite social media news source for 12 to 15-year-olds.

The study revealed that 28 per cent of teenagers are now turning to TikTok for news, followed closely by YouTube and Instagram, both at 25 per cent.

If we combine the reach of all BBC platforms, such as their TV channels, radio stations, websites, and social media pages, then the BBC reaches more teenagers overall.

This surge in TikTok's popularity for news consumption coincides with a recent UK government decision to ban ministers from using the app on their work phones due to security concerns.

The House of Commons and the Lords followed suit, banning the app across the Palace of Westminster.

ByteDance, the Chinese internet company that owns TikTok, has firmly denied allegations of data sharing with China.

Despite this, concerns remain due to Chinese intelligence legislation requiring companies to assist the Communist Party when requested.

Nic Newman, a senior research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, highlighted that a significant shift is under way in news consumption habits, with more publishers moving on to TikTok.

“Publishers were initially reluctant to go into TikTok,” Mr Newman said. “But over the last 12 months, most major publishers have refocused their strategy, partly because of the risk of young people encountering unreliable news.”

According to Mr Newman, the rise of influencer news and the platform's ability to engage younger audiences, from comedians discussing free school meals to serious coverage of the Ukraine war, signify a “big shift”.

However, this change also presents a challenge due to TikTok's lack of a business model.

While teenagers are increasingly consuming news from TikTok, their trust in traditional sources remains higher.

Ofcom found that BBC One/Two were trusted by 82 per cent of teenage users, compared to TikTok's 32 per cent.

Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat followed with trust ratings of 38 per cent, 41 per cent, and 31 per cent respectively, with Twitter standing out with a 50 per cent trust rating.

In terms of interests, younger teenagers were primarily interested in “sports or sports personalities” (23 per cent), “music news or singers” (15 per cent), “celebrities or famous people” (11 per cent), “serious things going on in the UK” (8 per cent) and news about “animals or the environment” (9 per cent).

Those aged between 16-24 demonstrated a clear preference for non-traditional news sources, with social media platforms dominating the top five most popular news sources. The list features Instagram (44 per cent), Facebook (33 per cent), Twitter (31 per cent), and TikTok (29 per cent), with BBC One (33 per cent) being the only traditional media source making the cut.

Nevertheless, Ofcom's report states that broadcast TV news maintains its position as the top news source among UK adults, used by 70 per cent. This percentage increases to 75 per cent when on-demand news content is included.

BBC One continues to lead as the most-used single news source across all platforms at 49 per cent, followed by ITV at 34v.

Among adults, TikTok's popularity as a news source is also growing, overtaking BBC Radio 1 and Channel 5 for the first time, with 10 per cent of adults using it for news.

TikTok (55 per cent) and Instagram (53 per cent) were most favoured for celebrity news, while Twitter led for breaking news (61 per cent) and political news (45 per cent). Local news was predominantly sourced from Facebook (59 per cent).

News from social media platforms received lower ratings for trust, accuracy, and impartiality when compared to more traditional sources.

One in ten 16-24-year-olds claims to consume no news at all, a figure that doubles when compared to the overall adult population.

The steady decline in print newspaper usage seems to have stabilised between 2022 and 2023, with 26 per cent of adults still accessing news via this medium.

This increases to 39 per cent when including digital platforms. The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Guardian/Observer remain the most widely-read print and digital news titles overall.

Updated: July 20, 2023, 9:09 AM