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Almost two-thirds of young adults use social media on their mobile phones to access news, according to a report by the UK media watchdog, raising questions over trust and the focus of information provided by leading online sources. 

Ofcom’s report on news consumption in the UK, published on Thursday, highlighted the importance of social media sites such as TikTok and Snap as gatekeepers to news, with more than a third of 16- to 24 year-olds visiting news websites via social media, and less than a tenth going straight to a traditional news site.

The regulator found the age group had a weak relationship with traditional media, with less than half watching TV channels for their news and only about a sixth reading print newspapers. Instead they were drawn to “light-hearted news on social media”, dominated by celebrity, sports and music, with 63 per cent accessing it on mobile phones.

Ofcom said the findings suggest that young people have less of a direct connection with established news brands. These tend to have clearer editorial control and direction than sites that aggregate news sources or position comment alongside fact.

In a sign of the continued strength of the national broadcaster, BBC One was the only traditional media source to make the top-five news sources consumed by the 16-to-24 age group. Instagram was the most-used single news source, followed by the BBC, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. 

The study found that the most-used single source of news across all platforms for younger children, aged 12 to 15, was TikTok, followed by YouTube. By comparison, only 16 per cent of those aged over 75 used social media to access news. 

Douglas McCabe, media analyst at Enders, said the growth of social media as a dominant news source raised questions over trust and reliability of information.

“The hierarchy and curation of discoverable content are not designed by news and information media, but by different criteria,” he said. “This reduces the influence and impact of news brands that invest in expensive journalism, with obvious implications for the economics of media and democracy itself.”

The Ofcom report, which was based on 4,556 online and in-person interviews, also found that the long-term decline in print newspapers had stabilised, with more than a quarter of all adults reading their news via print, slightly higher than last year. This rose to close to 40 per cent when including newspapers’ online platforms.

BBC One remains the most popular single news source across all platforms, used by 49 per cent of all UK adults, followed by ITV, which is consumed by about a third. But both channels have seen gradual declines in users over the past five years.

By contrast, TikTok’s popularity as a source of news is growing, overtaking BBC Radio 1 and Channel 5 for the first time. One in every 10 adults now uses it to keep up with the latest stories.

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