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Facebook, Whatsapp remain top choice for social media news consumption despite controversies

The days when newspapers and TV news channels were considered to be the only dominant sources of news consumption seem like ages ago. The rise of the internet has borne many fruits, one of which has been the expansion of the reach of news through social media. In today’s world, a large amount of the population actually prefers to get its news through platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

According to a report on digital news in India by The Reuters Institute, it took India 15 years (1995-2010) to record 100 million internet users. However, this number has seen a mammoth growth over the eight years since, with the nation now boasting of over 500 million users (updated June 2018); 30 per cent of the entire population.

One of the main reasons for this growth has been the tremendous increase in mobile internet access. The introduction of India’s richest man Makes Ambani’s mobile network ‘Jio’ proved to be a game changer, forcing other networks to compete with its cheap prices. Unlike the expensive internet plans prevalent until only a few years ago, it has now become much easier for the masses to surf the internet.

And with this growing number of mobile internet users, many are gradually beginning to explore and become comfortable with using different social media platforms. A survey in the report conducted by YouGov in early 2019 states that 68% of the respondents cited smartphones as their main device for online news consumption. 

The respondents were also asked which platform they used over one week to get their news. Facebook and WhatsApp emerged as the favourites with 52 per cent, followed by Instagram and Twitter at 26 and 18 per cent respectively. Facebook and WhatsApp’s (also owned by Facebook) lead at the top position is surprising considering that the platforms have been marred with controversies in recent times.

Infographic by Anweshak Tejendra
Data by Reuters Institute

Last year, Facebook was found guilty of compromising the details of 50 million users to a British data consulting company known as Cambridge Analytica. The firm worked closely with US President Donald Trump’s election team, harvesting the profiles to target potential voters with political advertisements. The controversy even led to a documentary on the scandal.

Zuckerberg later confirmed the breach and took full responsibility. He stated on the platform he founded: “I created Facebook and at the end of the day I’m responsible for what happens on our platform.” A few months later, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation looked into the British firm and the platform to ascertain whether the data of Indian Facebook users and voters had also been breached.

WhatsApp, on the other hand, came under intense fire for the spreading of fake news. Many of these stories resulted in mob lynchings. After the government threatened legal consequences on the messaging app, it decided to limit the number of times a message could be forwarded to just five to tackle the issue.

As a Public Relations employee, Torque Communications’ Purnima Jha is tasked with scouring the news as an integral part of her role. “Although our day begins with scouring the newspapers for stories on/related to our clients, it has become necessary to track all social media platforms. This is is because people use social media to have elaborate discussions about brands and other things.”

Image source: Purnima Jha

It’s also Jha’s job to analyse how the readers react to different kinds of news. She believes that social media is the best indicator of this since people can comment on posts and state their opinions. “It allows you to gauge what the readers think about a certain piece of information.”

According to her, Twitter seems to be the undisputed worldwide favourite among journalists to break news online. However, the platform doesn’t witness the same popularity in India, which could be the reason why the majority of people have accepted Facebook and WhatsApp as the alternative since they use them more extensively. And because there isn’t any other substitute with massive Indian users, the numbers continue to grow.

And they are, in fact, rising. Even though the controversies made headlines, the users don’t appear to have been deterred. India is showing the most growth in the number of Facebook users. As of April 2019, it had 260 million users, 70 million more than the second-placed United States.

The number of WhatsApp users in India reportedly doubled from 2017 to 2018. Out of the respondents in Reuters’ report, a staggering 92 per cent used the messaging app. The ease of using the app to send multimedia content has made it a favourite not only among the general public but also professionals who prefer to communicate through it.

Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter have been the most popular platforms for a while now, and with seemingly no brand-new platform on the horizon which could topple the former two, it looks like Facebook and WhatsApp could further dominate online news consumption for the foreseeable future.

(Featured image source: Anweshak Tejendra)

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