People are turning away from Facebook to Whatsapp for their news, study says

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Facebook is being used less and less to find and share news while people are increasingly turning to alternative platforms like Whatsapp instead, according to a study.

The use of Facebook for news dropped by 9 percent from 2017 to 2018 in the U.S., research by Oxford University’s Reuters Institute found, with news consumption among younger groups falling 20 percent.

Average news consumption on Facebook globally has declined 6 percent since 2016 until now, while Whatsapp saw a 4 percent increase in that time period. Instagram and Snapchat news usage rose 3 percent and 2 percent respectively in two years.

Both Whatsapp and Instagram are owned by Facebook. Snap-owned Snapchat has been driving news content on its platform, with a redesign in February prioritizing publishers and content creators. The move was controversial with users, and a number of traders took flight after celebrity Kylie Jenner said that she no longer uses the app. Snap has since redesigned its redesign to give more prominence to friends’ content.

The Reuters Institute said that consumers were finding the private nature of messaging services like Whatsapp more appealing, and were more willing to share and engage in news content. It found that people felt uncomfortable about their growing networks of friends on Facebook and, as a consequence, were less disposed to use the platform for news.

Facebook has recently looked to change its approach to news on its platform, updating its News Feed in January to prioritize local news. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said that month that the firm was looking to prioritize “meaningful social interactions” on its platform rather than “relevant content.” The company has also removed a feature that showed trending news and said earlier this month that it was testing breaking news notifications. It said it would also dedicate a portion of its on-demand video service to news content.

Polling organization YouGov surveyed more than 74,000 people across 37 markets to collect data for the Reuters Institute study. The data arrives at a trying time for Facebook, which has being trying to salvage its image following a data scandal that first emerged in March.

Reports earlier this year said that controversial political data analytics group Cambridge Analytica gained access to the data of 50 million Facebook users, escalating concerns over whether social media platforms were used to spread misinformation The Reuters Institute’s survey was conducted between January and February, before those initial reports surfaced.

Facebook has admitted that 87 million profiles may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica — which filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. last month. Along with Google, Whatsapp and Instagram, Facebook has already been faced with a legal complaint alleging that it breached Europe’s new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Under GDPR, which was implemented on May 25, companies must obtain explicit consent from customers in order to use their data.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Snap.

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