Using Facebook for the news is in decline and concerns grow over AI's influence on misinformation: Reuters Institute report

The annual report on digital news from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism finds that Facebook and X have actively reduced the prominence and role of news on their platforms, thus putting further pressure on media business models. In addition, the research emphasizes audiences' concern about the increase in misinformation through content generated by artificial intelligence (AI).

In turn, the elections in many countries around the world during 2024 have increased interest in news, but attention overall continues on its downward trend. Interest in news in Argentina, for example, has fallen from 77% in 2017 to 45% today.

This study, which is in its 13th edition, has been commissioned by the Reuters Institute, in order to understand the situation of media in various countries. The research was carried out by YouGov through an online questionnaire answered between the end of January and the beginning of February 2024 by almost 100,000 people from six continents and 47 markets.

LatAm Journalism Review (LJR) takes advantage of the launch of the report to summarize the findings on the media industry and news consumption in Latin America. Regarding the region, the report only includes results from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Mexico and Peru.


Readjustments in the way audiences consume news


Social networks are no longer the main sources of news consumption, since Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and Threads, has reduced its support for the journalism industry and has restricted the algorithmic promotion of political content on its platforms.

Globally, social media usage decreased by 13% compared to last year, according to the Reuters Institute. 

In Colombia, Facebook (48%) remains the most important platform to distribute news, but this figure represents 10 percentage points less compared to last year. In that country, only 12% of those surveyed said they used X to consume news, a decrease of 6 points compared to 2023.

Latin American audiences are increasingly focused on sharing video news content on both TikTok and YouTube. For example, Peru continues to be among the five countries in the report with the highest use of TikTok for all purposes (47%), as well as for news consumption (27%).

On these platforms, media usually have less prominence and personalities/influencers play more important roles. In the report, the researchers talk about the Mexican Gerardo Vera, 19, who has used TikTok to tell stories to a younger generation. He started covering news on social media when he was 12 years old, and now he has more than 2 million followers on the platform.

“The logic of these new platforms, including narrative styles and vocabularies, but also the predominance of video, in many cases deviate from the practices and customs of many traditional media and especially those that focus on written text,” Amy Ross Arguedas, a researcher at the Reuters Institute and one of the authors of the report, told LJR.

“An analysis we did this year on alternative voices and influencers on social media shows how some journalists and commentators in Latin America (often focused on political issues and predominantly men) have also managed to exploit these platforms to their advantage, such as Jorge Lanata and Jonatan Viale, in the case of Argentina and Alexandre Garcia and Leo Dias, in the case of Brazil, who are mentioned by audiences as important sources for news on networks, along with traditional brands such as Todo Noticias (Argentina) and Globo (Brazil ),” she added.

Concern for misinformation


This year, some trends that the Reuters Institute has been documenting for some years have been magnified, and one is the growth in concern about misinformation.

Worldwide, about six out of ten respondents (59%) said they were worried.

In Brazil, a country that remains deeply polarized after the close elections in 2022 and subsequent attempts to overturn the result, misinformation on social media is a serious problem. In the survey, 24% of TikTok and X users in that country say it is difficult to distinguish between reliable and unreliable news content.


Caution in using AI in the news


As Ross Arguedas explained, this year's report included new questions about generative AI and how audiences view its integration into newsrooms.

“We were able to document that familiarity with AI remains relatively low: approximately half (49%) of respondents in the 28 countries where we included these questions have heard little or nothing about AI. Likewise, we found that high percentages feel uncomfortable with consuming news created mainly by AI, but there is more openness when AI is used as a tool by human journalists,” Ross Arguedas said.

The public remains cautious about the use of AI in the news, especially on current affairs.

For example, during 2024, in Colombia, fake videos made with AI that impersonate television presenters and journalists have been spread on social networks to transmit false information, and in Brazil, fake campaign images were created aimed at candidates or parties in the municipal elections in October.

This is why respondents to the report say they feel more comfortable with the use of AI in support tasks, such as transcription and translation, or any other task that supports journalists and does not seek to replace them.

Colombian media companies such as El Tiempo, El Espectador and Caracol TV are using AI to find new ways to convert occasional web visitors into regular subscribers. In Brazil, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo launched an AI chatbot that uses previously published content to answer questions asked by readers.

And in Chile, media are also experimenting with AI. The independent site Copano.news told Reuters that it publishes more than 40 articles a day using an AI-based CMS [software that allows the creation and management of digital content]. On the other hand, the WazNews virtual assistant uses AI to deliver news in text and audio through WhatsApp.


News avoidance at record levels


Each country's relationship with the news and the challenges they face in the journalism industry vary due to “a combination of cultural, political and commercial factors,” as Ross Arguedas explained to LJR.

Countries like Brazil have slightly higher levels of trust in news (43%) than the global average (40%), while countries like Argentina have lower levels of trust in news (30%).

In general, trust in news is low in Latin America.

In Mexico, trust in the news decreased by around 15 points after the 2018 election of populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who constantly attacks the press. It currently stands at 35%.

In Chile, trust in news is among the lowest in the Reuters Institute global survey at 32%. With this figure it is approaching its lowest point since 2017.

Additionally, news consumption in this country has decreased considerably, with television news and print newspapers recording the largest declines.


Stagnant subscriptions and other revenue challenges


In general terms, the report indicates that news subscriptions have stagnated in many markets. The survey made it clear that there is limited interest in paying for news and many media outlets have a significant proportion of subscribers who pay less than full price.

In the case of Latin America, low incomes and financing difficulties have led to layoffs.

In early 2024, for example, more than 700 workers were laid off when the Argentine government closed the state agency Télam, 600 were laid off from the Radio Nacional station and 250 from América TV, one of the four more important private television stations.

In Peru, the two largest media outlets, El Comercio and Grupo La República, recorded significant drops in advertising revenue in 2023.

“El Comercio had a 16.7% drop in revenue and a global loss of more than $19 million and laid off about 150 journalists and employees,” the report explains. “Further cuts may be in the cards and it has been reported that reorganization is being considered, which could include the sale of some non-key brands.  On the other hand, Grupo La República closed several regional branches and laid off about 200 journalists and employees.”

The Spanish version of the report can be viewed here. But, the official presentation of the study in Latin America will be part of the Gabo Festival, organized by the Gabo Foundation, which will take place in Bogotá from July 5 to 7. Eduardo Suárez, editorial director of the Reuters Institute, will present the main conclusions on July 6 at an event during the festival.