Hamburg, 26 October 2023. More and more adolescents and young adults do not find their interests and concerns reflected in the traditional news media. They have little interest in current world events, hardly use any information offered by established media and are therefore hardly reached by journalistic offerings. They make up around one-third of 14- to 24-year-olds (young people aged 14-17: 45%, young adults aged 18-24: 22%). Instead, social media offerings play an important role for this group of young people. They stay up to date almost exclusively via casual information contacts on TikTok and YouTube, preferring entertaining content and pursuing individual interests that they also talk about among their friends. What their information needs, usage practices and attitudes look like was researched by the Leibniz Institute for Media Research in Hamburg. The research was conducted in discussion rounds with young people between the ages of 14 and 22 who are hardly interested in current information and are not reached by journalistic offerings: the low-information-oriented.
Little interest in information
Adolescents and young adults who belong to the low information seekers usually have a low level of formal education, and established news offerings hardly play a role for them anymore. Information is absorbed casually, passively, and almost exclusively via social media. Young people are predominantly in groups where different opinions on a topic are valued, but political issues are rarely discussed. However, social issues such as discrimination, social justice or equality are discussed in the friend groups. The main criticism of the established media is that they have no points of contact with the lives of young people and make no reference to their own person and identity, such as their origins and religion.
TikTok as Main Source of Information
Teenagers and young adults from the low-information group appreciate entertaining content that addresses their personal interests. Accordingly, information is found on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube, as well as on Google in an active search. Social media content creators such as Mr. Lawyer
take on an important role as a source of information because they arouse the interest of young people. In addition, they enjoy trust because, in the opinion of young people, they cover the right topics in a neutral way with the appropriate entertaining presentation style.
Overall, in addition to the topicality, the respondents particularly appreciate the short and entertaining content on TikTok as well as the different perspectives offered there, which are seen as a basis for forming one's own opinion.
Fake News Leads to Less Trust in Social Media Overall
A certain "addiction potential" is problematized by the respondents in their use of social media. The fact that predominantly negative, "toxic" content is disseminated, and "fake accounts" and "fake content" are on the rise leads to uncertainty in the group surveyed and, as a consequence, to a lack of trust in content in social media in general - no differentiation is made according to account type or sender. It is true that some of the participants have strategies for dealing with uncertainties in the face of dubious senders and content (mostly a Google search). However, this indicates overall that there are major orientation problems in the group that was surveyed.
Little Knowledge Exists About the Role and Function of Journalism
Focus group participants know very little about the role of journalism in disseminating information in general and how professional training is provided. For them, the term "journalism" triggers predominantly negative emotions such as disinterest and evokes associations with fake news and paparazzi. Criticism of news in traditional media is that they exaggerate too much and explain too little in a differentiated way. Too much is reported on certain topics, while other more important topics are not mentioned or are kept quiet. The low-information-oriented see their own age- and origin-related identity as not sufficiently represented. This leads to the perception that the issues that are actually important are forgotten. In the media, one dominant perspective is usually represented, while others do not get a chance to speak. This creates pressure to adopt this media perspective, which in turn leads to a lack of understanding and the perception that the formation of one's own opinion is being negatively influenced.
The adolescents and young adults surveyed think that the established media present a rather doubtful overall picture, which is not so much the result of false facts as the omission of individual facts, opinions, and events. This leads to a loss of trust and a turning away from classic media offerings.
What People Want: Comprehensibility and Encounters at Eye Level
Asked about their wishes for journalism, the participants name: neutral representations, diversity of opinion, comprehensibility, and encounters at eye level. So far, social media such as TikTok fulfill these criteria for the respondents. The decisive factor, they say, is the personal touch; the topics must concern the respondent's own person and identity (religion, origin) or the closest family and friends.
Information on the Study
How do people in Germany inform themselves in the digital age? In the long-term project "Use the News - News Usage and News Literacy in the Digital Age" the HBI is researching news literacy, especially among the population under 30.
The focus of this sub-study was on young people who are hardly interested in current information and are not reached by journalistic offerings: the low information oriented. They make up about one-third of 14- to 24-year-olds (young people aged 14-17: 45%, young adults aged 18-24: 22%).
In the summer of 2023, interviews in ten focus groups (n=46) were conducted in four major cities in Germany with those adolescents and young adults aged 14 to 22 who could be classified as belonging to this group based on selected sociodemographic characteristics. The focus groups took place in the cities of Hamburg, Bottrop (North Rhine-Westphalia), Dresden (Saxony) and Nuremberg (Bavaria).
The findings obtained in this study are not suitable for generalization and universal application to all adolescents and young adults in Germany. Rather, the results provide valuable insights into a subgroup of young people who have little interest in current world events and are hardly reached by information offerings from established providers.
Study Available for Download
Wunderlich, Leonie; Hölig, Sascha (2023): „Verständlicher, nicht so politisch“ – Einblicke in die Bedürfnisse und Nutzungspraktiken gering informationsorientierter junger Menschen [More Comprehensible, Not So Political" - Insights into the Needs and Usage Practices of Low-Information-Oriented Young People]. Hamburg: Verlag Hans-Bredow-Institut, October 2023 (Working Papers of the Hans-Bredow-Institut | Project Results No.69), https://www.ssoar.info/ssoar/handle/document/90067
, ISBN 978-3-87296-183-9 (Open Access, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License CC BY 4.0).
The issues of the series "Working Papers of the Hans-Bredow-Institut" can be downloaded from the Institute's website at https://leibniz-hbi.de/en/publications/working_papers
Leonie Wunderlich, M. A., is a Junior Researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI) in Hamburg, Dr. Sascha Hölig is a Senior Researcher at the HBI.
Leonie Wunderlich, [email protected]
Information on the Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
The Leibniz Institute for Media Research | Hans-Bredow-Institut researches media change and the associated structural changes in public communication. Cross-media, interdisciplinary and independent, it combines basic science and transfer research to provide problem-relevant knowledge for politics, commerce, and civil society. In 2019, the institute was admitted to the Leibniz Association. More at https://leibniz-hbi.de/en
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