WhatsApp: a new study shows its growing importance as news platform

WA News PlatformWhatsApp is not just a free instant messaging platform where users are allowed to chat and share pictures and videos. Actually, the Facebook-owned instant messaging app is a rising star also between news media. That’s what a new Digital News Report shows.

The survey was carried out by the Reuters Institute For The Study of Journalism and was sponsored by the BBC and Google. The research was conducted in 34 countries in Europe, then also in America, Asia, Taiwan and Hong Kong, and 71,805 people decided to participate, answering the questions of YouGov in a period between January and February. These are the results, and many could be quite surprised by them.

First of all Facebook, which stays at the top as the most popular social media and messaging service everywhere, but not in Japan and South Korea, where the throne goes to YouTube and Kakao Talk. From the survey it emerges that people use more and more instant messaging apps, and WhatsApp in particular, to share news stories. WhatsApp is currently the second most popular social service for news in nine of the 36 locations examined and is the third most popular platform in other five countries.

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What are the reasons for this success? The authors of the research try to give several explanations. First of all the end-to-end encryption. It seems that users feel safer. Nick Newman, one of the authors of the survey, said that “Some of the biggest growth we’ve seen is in places like Turkey, where it’s positively dangerous for people to express anti-government preferences on open networks like Facebook,” adding that “As a result people are using closed groups where they are more confident of expressing their views.”.

Furthermore, in countries such Latin America mobile networks offer unlimited data use, and so users are encouraged to use the app. Also several Chilean and Spanish media outlets are using similar policies, and radio stations asks listeners to let them have short voice recordings using WhatsApp. Mr Newman also stated that “And part of WhatsApp’s appeal is that users don’t get interrupted by brands, making it a very pure form of messaging. That’s something [its developers] will really try to hold to.”

Obviously the report has a section dedicated to the so-called “fake news”. The research shows once more the distrust of the mainstream media, especially in some countries where the industry is considered too close to the government. The analysis also demonstrated that internet is now commonly used to gather information and news, and Facebook and Google are currently the main providers, even if Yahoo News is still the most popular online news brand when when it comes to the number of people using the service at least once a week.

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