How TikTok is shaking up the news

Social media platforms are the most popular news sources for British young people, a new study found

TikTok on a screen
(Image credit: Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

When the social media app TikTok was launched in 2018 by the Chinese company ByteDance, no one in journalism took it very seriously, said Andrew Kersley in Press Gazette.

It was promoted as “a joyful” place full of short, chatty, playful videos, presenting everything from recipes to songs to new fashion crazes. But now, particularly since the Ukraine war, it has become a major platform for news.

TikTok, Instagram and YouTube have become the most popular news sources for British young people aged 12 to 15, according to a new Ofcom study – overtaking BBC One and Two.

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The reach of these social networks is vast, said David Sillito on BBC News. Instagram has 34.6 million users in the UK. TikTok, which has around 17 million, is now the country’s fastest-growing news source. Three in ten teenagers use it to get their news.

‘Fewer arguments than Twitter’

What explains TikTok’s popularity, asked Helen Lewis in The Sunday Times. It has “fewer arguments than Twitter, fewer irritating ads than Instagram, less needless interpersonal drama than Facebook”. Its news clips, often peppered with swear words, are fast-paced and concise; and the way serious headlines about climate change or Ukraine are interspersed with cat videos and other frivolous items only adds to the appeal.

Needless to say, this alters the way news is presented, although most traditional news organisations have now realised that they need a presence on the platform. “One of TikTok’s most popular journalists, The Washington Post’s Taylor Lorenz, records chatty videos lying in bed.”

‘Death of traditional journalism?’

A lot of the news on the site is provided by people who aren’t trained journalists, said Christopher StokelWalker in The Observer – ordinary Ukrainians documenting the atrocities of the Russian invasion, for example. TikTok’s growth has led to warnings of “the death of traditional journalism”.

But it doesn’t mean that, any more than the arrival of radio and TV meant the death of newspapers. It just means that news has evolved; the key to good journalism is the ability to react quickly and give the audience what they want. So let’s not indulge in “format snobbishness”. After all, “we no longer present the news in dinner jackets and bow ties”.

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