THERE was a time when people in the UK followed the news through the BBC, The Guardian or 24-hour news channels. But this age could soon to be coming to an end… because of TikTok. In fact, the social network is increasingly being treated as a news source by UK internet users.
Although they’re not particularly fond of traditional media outlets, younger generations are nonetheless highly interested in news. They just don’t get their news in the same way as their elders, preferring social networks like Facebook, Twitter and, more recently, TikTok. The Chinese platform is now used by 7 per cent of UK adults to follow the news, according to a recent report from Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator. In comparison, only 1 per cent used TikTok for news in 2020.
Not surprisingly, 16-to-24-year-olds are the most likely to check the latest “news” on TikTok. Born into a world of digital technology, they do not use the same tools as their elders when it comes to sourcing information and staying informed.
“Teenagers today are increasingly unlikely to pick up a newspaper or tune into TV News, instead preferring to keep up-to-date by scrolling through their social feeds,” Yih-Choung Teh, Ofcom’s group director for strategy and research, told The Guardian.
They also don’t have the same expectations of the media as previous generations. They prefer video content, which is easier to share and comment on than written articles, and are looking for instant access to news on a daily basis.
As such, it’s not surprising that this young audience turns to TikTok for news. If the application became known for its viral dance challenges and lip-sync videos, it now hosts many educational and informative videos on current events.
TikTok, a trustworthy news source?
Some such content is custom-made by traditional media outlets in search of a new audience. But these are not the ones that British TikTok users turn to for the latest “news.” They prefer to source this “news” from the people they follow on the platform (44 per ent) or their friends and family (32 per cent). Some media organisations, such as Sky News, BBC News and ITV News, have managed to stand out on TikTok by offering content tailored to the social network’s (young) users. As a result, Sky News is followed by more than 1.8 million users. The Daily Mail is the only British media outlet to be ahead of the news channel on TikTok, with its 3.8 million followers.
Some news topics are more popular than others on TikTok. First, there’s the war in Ukraine. The platform has become a central player in the information war between Ukraine and Russia. Users in Ukraine notably take to the social network to document the advance of Russian troops, as well as the destruction and violence they are committing on the ground. Meanwhile, the Kremlin uses the platform to share fake news about the conflict.
The recent legal dispute between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard has also been followed by millions of users on TikTok. The accusations made by the two ex-spouses were the subject of a huge number of videos on the platform. The hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp has 21.3 billion views, compared to 36.4 million for #IstandwithAmberHeard.
While a large number of British people go to TikTok for their news, they are only too aware that they may encounter false information. And this is reflected in the figures: only 30 per cent of internet users who use the social network for news purposes consider it a trustworthy source, according to the Ofcom report. Respondents trust traditional media much more than social networks, with the exception of teenagers aged 12 to 15. Proof, if any were needed, that the younger generations do not get their news in the same way as their elders.-NST