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WhatsApp chips away at Facebook as young people turn to the messaging app to discuss news events, says Reuters Institute

News usage at the social network is down 9 percentage points from 2017 in the US and 20 points for younger audiences

A phone displaying the WhatsApp app
CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s purchase of WhatsApp in 2014 for US$19bn turned out to be prescient

Researchers at the Reuters Institute said Wednesday that the use of social media networks such as Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB) to consume news has started to fall in the US as many young people turn toward messaging apps such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp to discuss events.

A Reuters Institute survey of people in 37 markets had some grim findings for the world’s largest social network platform pointing out that Facebook usage for news is down 9 percentage points from 2017 in the United States and down 20 points for younger audiences.

“The use of social media for news has started to fall in a number of key markets after years of continuous growth,” Nic Newman, research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, said in the Digital News Report.

“We continue to see a rise in the use of messaging apps for news as consumers look for more private (and less confrontational) spaces to communicate,” Newman said.

Social media has changed how news is consumed

People used to subscribe to the local paper, but now nearly 50% of people hear about a breaking news story on social media.

The research lays bare the volatility of consumer tastes pointing out that Facebook and Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) are still used by “many users to discover news but the discussion then takes place on messaging apps such as WhatsApp,” often because people “feel less vulnerable” discussing events on such apps.

READ: Facebook scraps 'Trending Topics' section as fake news debate rolls on

Wall Street had balked at Facebook founder CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s free-spending ways when he has bought WhatsApp in 2014 for US$19bn in cash and stock, but it has turned out to be a prescient decision. The report points out that WhatsApp is more popular than Twitter in importance for news in many countries.

“Some respondents still found news on Facebook but then posted items on a WhatsApp group for discussion with a closer set of friends,” said the report.

The survey pointed out regional news sharing differences noting WhatsApp and Instagram, also a unit of Facebook, have “taken off in Latin America and Asia,” while Snapchat Snap Inc. (NYSE:SNAP) has made progress in Europe and the United States.

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