In the past year, the use of Instagram and WhatsApp for consuming news online has grown significantly in at least four Latin American countries: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. In Brazil alone, 53 percent of these consumers use WhatsApp for this purpose, the highest among 38 countries.
These are some of the findings from the latest Digital News Report from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
The report released in mid-June shows the results of a survey conducted in 38 countries between January and February 2019. About 75,000 internet users who consume news online were heard from.
Between the years 2018 and 2019 in the region, there is an average increase of 7.5 percent in the use of Instagram and 4.2 percent in the use of WhatsApp for the consumption of online news, while the use of Facebook for the same purpose grew 1.7 percent. Facebook continues to be the main social media platform used for online news consumption in the four countries, followed by WhatsApp in Argentina, Brazil and Chile, and YouTube in Mexico.
In Brazil, 26 percent use Instagram for news consumption, a percentage exceeded only in Turkey (33 percent). In the other three countries, this figure does not exceed 20 percent.
The study notes that in Brazil, almost six in ten WhatsApp users (58 percent) participate in groups with people they do not know, a figure which is about one in ten (12 percent) in the United Kingdom, where the Reuters Institute is located. In Brazil, almost a fifth of WhatsApp users (18 percent) debate news and politics in these groups, while 2 percent in the UK said they do the same. Thus, "potentially increasing the chances of misinformation being spread” in the South American country, the report said.
Brazil also has the highest index among the 38 countries analyzed for concern about online misinformation. Among the Brazilian respondents, 85 percent said they worry about what is real and what is false on the internet in relation to online news, while the global average was 55 percent. Mexico (68 percent), Chile (67 percent) and Argentina (62 percent) also showed more concern than the global average in this area.
Brazil also stood out with the biggest drop in a year in the index of confidence in the news, which went from 59 percent in 2018 to 48 percent in 2019. The fall of 11 percentage points also occurred in France, a reflection of the “yellow vests” protests, according to the study. In the South American country, the report attributes the fall in confidence in the news to the "turbulent election" of October 2018, marked by political polarization and the spread of fraudulent news on social media.
As the Knight Center previously reported, various fact-checking projects emerged in Brazil in the context of the elections precisely to combat misinformation spread on social networks. One was geared directly to WhatsApp.
Additionally, journalists and academics made demands that the messaging application do something about the spread of false content.
One of these demands came in an article published in The New York Times by Cristina Tardáguila, then-director of fact-checking site Agência Lupa; Fabrício Benevenuto, professor at the Federal University of Minas Gerais; and Pablo Ortellado, professor at the University of São Paulo. They suggested that the application limit the possible number of forwards and broadcasts and the size of new groups.
According to Ortellado, the company responded that there was not enough time to implement the changes in Brazil, to which the authors of the article stated that WhatsApp had done something similar in India in a few days after a series of lynchings motivated by rumors spread through the application.
WhatsApp said it has taken several steps to try to mitigate misinformation propagated through the application during the election period in Brazil. The company removed "hundreds of thousands of accounts for spam" and added a label to forwarded messages, WhatsApp vice president Chris Daniels wrote in an article in the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo in October last year.
Although with a less significant fall in the last year, confidence in the news measured by the Reuters Institute report is even lower in Argentina (39 percent) – below the world average of 42 percentage – and in Chile (45 percentage). Mexico, on the other hand, saw this confidence grow a percentage point between 2018 and 2019, reaching 50 percent.
According to what María Elena Gutiérrez Rentería, a professor at the Pan American University, wrote in the report, "religious institutions, universities and the media are the three most trusted institutions in Mexico in the past decade,” in contrast to the population’s distrust of the political class. She considers that the arrival of Andrés Manuel López Obrador to the presidency “has restored some credibility and news brands that have an affinity with his ideology such as Aristegui Noticias may also benefits from higher trust levels in our survey this year.”
However, several media outlets have been the targets of his hostile rhetoric from the political leader, as journalists Salvador Camarena of the organization Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (MCCI) and Daniel Moreno of the site Animal Político said during the 12th Ibero-American Digital Journalism Colloquium, held last April 14 by the Knight Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
According to Camarena and Moreno, the Mexican president has implemented a strategy of harassment and disqualification against journalistic media that is causing a polarization of the country's press. In one of the most emblematic cases, the editorial director of Reforma newspaper, Juan Pardinas, was targeted by online harassment and death threats in April after the president publicly criticized a story published by the newspaper and questioned the ethics of the publication.
In the four Latin American countries analyzed by the Reuters Institute in its most recent report, online media, including social media, is the main source for 87.5 percent of digital news consumers; 69.7 percent of them also turn to TV; 31.5 percent also go to print (with the highest index in Mexico, 38 percent, and the lowest in Brazil, 27 percent); and 28 percent also look to radio.
Despite the preference for online, the proportion of people who pay for digital journalism that they consume remains low – whether through subscriptions, memberships or donations to journalistic media. This figure was 22 percent in Brazil, 16 percent in Mexico, 8 percent in Argentina and 7 percent in Chile.
The report concluded from the global survey that “most people are not prepared to pay for online news today and on current trends look unlikely to pay in the future, at least for the kind of news they currently access for free.”
The study points out challenges for journalistic media seeking financial contributions from readers: even in countries with the highest figures of paying readers, such as Norway (34 percent) and Sweden (27 percent), most people only have one online subscription. The survey also found that most people prefer to pay for online entertainment services, such as Netflix and Spotify, than for news.
“With many seeing news as a ‘chore’, publishers may struggle to substantially increase the market for high-priced ‘single title’ subscriptions,” the report said.