NEWS25 March 2024

Ofcom studies highlight impact of online intermediaries on what news people see

Media News Technology UK

UK – Online intermediaries, including social media platforms and search engines, have a “significant” impact on what news stories people read, according to research from communications regulator Ofcom.

person scrolling on a tablet

Ofcom conducted three studies for a report to explore the influence of online intermediaries in how online news is curated and presented. 

News items at the top of a social media feed were around 4.5 times more likely to be viewed than those at the bottom, according to eye-tracking research conducted by Lumen Research for one of the studies. These articles were also seven times more likely to be remembered.

News posts presented higher in a mock social media feed were up to 14 times more likely to be clicked on to expand the full article, according to the Lumen study.

Clicks had an impact on recall, with participants who clicked to expand a news article being five times more likely to spontaneously recall the article, compared to those who only viewed the social media post.

In a separate study for the report, conducted by Ofcom, the watchdog found that greater use of online intermediaries to access news was associated with lower topic diversity – by accessing news in this way, people tended to be exposed to a narrower range of news topics than they might encounter on a traditional news website.

Almost two-thirds ( 64%) of UK adults claim to use online intermediaries to access news, with Facebook owner Meta being the third largest source of news in the UK after the BBC and ITV, according to research previously published by Ofcom on the topic. Additionally, seven in 10 ( 71%) of 16–24-year-olds use social media for news.

Ofcom will use the findings from the studies to help inform its review of public service media and its ongoing assessment of the potential risks posed by online intermediaries and emerging technologies, including generative AI.