Social media users rely on platforms for news, but skeptical of information, survey shows

Apps for social media in smartphone
A second round of results examining social media’s influence on public discourse is set to be released next week.

Most social media users are skeptical about information presented on social platforms, despite relying on the sites for news, according to a recently released survey from researchers at the University of South Florida.

The survey, which was conducted nationwide among adult social media users, sought to better understand patterns of social media usage – including e-commerce and political engagement – as well as the impact of usage on mental health.

Despite over half of survey respondents (58%) saying they rely on social media for news and information, most Americans (75%) are not confident in the accuracy of the political information they encounter on the platform.

And, some users aren’t afraid to cut off friends who share questionable information.

Nearly a quarter of respondents (24%) report having “unfriended” or “unfollowed” someone on Facebook because of their political posts. The most commonly unfriended accounts are “acquaintances” (17%) and “strangers” (9%). When asked to cite their reasons for “unfriending”, respondents emphasized political posts that they found morally objectionable (18%) or untruthful (18%).

Despite concerns that social media may limit exposure to alternative viewpoints, survey results found that 79% of American Facebook users feel they often encounter political views on the platform that are different than their own.

Most users are also distrustful of social media companies keeping their personal information secure. A majority of Americans (62%) say they are either not very confident or not at all confident in the ability of social media companies (such as Facebook and Twitter) to keep their personal information secure.

But, even though most users are concerned over the security of their personal information, many continue to engage in risky online behaviors.

Just under a third of respondents (29%) report having held an ongoing conversation with a stranger on social media over the past 30 days. During the same time period, roughly a quarter also report having engaged in behaviors that could inadvertently share the information in their user profiles, such as completing surveys (23%) and quizzes/games (28%) that appear in their feeds.

The pandemic has also affected the usage of social media, with 68% of respondents saying they’ve relied on social media to stay connected with family and friends during the COVID-19 outbreak. A similar majority (63%) report they’ve used social media more frequently during the pandemic, while 49% say that social media has been good for their mental health during this time.

Although nearly half of Americans found social media to be good for their mental health during the pandemic, over half of the survey respondents (57%) reported that keeping up with social media can be stressful. However, nearly three-quarters (74%) say they don’t feel pressured to post interesting content on their own accounts.

Social media sites are also increasingly used for e-commerce, with over half of Americans (54%) report having clicked on a link to an advertisement in their feed in the past month, and nearly half (47%) report having shopped for a product or service on social media in the same time period.

The survey was conducted in partnership with Cyber Florida at USF from Nov. 2 through Nov. 8, and results are reported with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error +/-3.

A second round of results, which examines social media’s influence on public discourse, is set to be released next week.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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