David Zurawik

Pew finds Facebook replacing local TV as source of political news

Most millennials get their political news on Facebook, while the majority of baby boomers do so from local TV news.

While that might not surprise anyone who followed the relationship between media and politics closely in the 2012 presidential race, the findings of a Pew study released today are impressive in the kind of clarity and support they bring to that belief.


Using online data from 2,901 members of the Pew Research Center's American Trends Panel, the survey found 61 percent of millennials report getting political news on Facebook in a given week, while 60 percent of baby boomers tuned into local TV news for political news.

I think it's a good thing that younger generations are not going to local TV news for their political information. What most stations offer is superficial, tame and lame. Many are so intent on raking in those huge political ad dollars that they wouldn't think of offending any potential candidate-advertiser with a tough story.


With social media, there is far less possibility of that kind of industry-wide sellout to the politicians with big bankrolls.

On the other hand, social media is filled with information that has not been reported, let alone properly vetted, for accuracy, so it is wide open to manipulation. And the big-time political media operatives have been astroturfing it since at least 2012.

Case in point, the hashtags that popped up during Obama's second debate with Mitt Romney – after Romney's remarks about cutting funding for PBS and how he tried to recruit women for his cabinet in Massachusetts when he was elected governor.

Many Twitter users joined in thinking it was a grassroots, organic response of viewers. But it was being driven by Team Obama social-media operatives. And, the number of critical tweets, in turn, drove newspaper headlines and cable news budgets the morning after.

That's the kind of political manipulation of social media that makes this study so important. I hope Pew or someone else with Pew-like money will study how social media – and perhaps millennial voters – are manipulated in 2016. I'm sure the manipulators are working on it right now in various campaign, social-media boiler rooms.

The survey also looks at trust and media across three generations (Gen Xers included). The four political news sources distrusted more than they are trusted: "The Glenn Beck Program," the "Rush Limbaugh Show," the "Sean Hannity Show" and BuzzFeed.

Read the survey here.