Gen Z and Millennials feel digital fatigue and are concerned about misinformation in the media
Much has changed in the public discourse around information and news since 2015. When our first survey was published, Donald J. Trump had not been elected president or popularized the description of traditional media as “fake news.” People had not heard about foreign governments using social media platforms to spread misinformation in an attempt to influence U.S. elections. Online conspiracy groups like QAnon had not emerged. TikTok did not exist.
How has any of this altered the way 16- to 40-year-old Americans feel about their time online? The survey finds significant evidence that Gen Z and Millennials are weary of and are deeply troubled by the spread of misinformation, even as they continue to spend large amounts of time connected.
First, Gen Z and Millennials are online a significant amount of time. Over 9 in 10 report spending at least two hours a day online, including 56% who are online for more than 5 hours and 24% more than 9 hours.
We then asked Gen Z and Millennials about how they feel about their time online. They could choose multiple responses. Of those options, the most widely chosen — by roughly half of Gen Z and Millennials — is that they pay attention to how certain products (sites, platforms, or apps) try to keep them engaged.
The second most widely registered response, by 30%, is that they feel worse the longer they are connected online.
Younger Millennials (34%) are slightly more likely than older Millennials (30%) and Gen Z (27%) to report that they feel worse the longer they spend online.
Overall, 79% of Gen Z and Millennials say they do at least one of the following to monitor or limit the amount of time they spend online: paying attention to how products keep them engaged, setting time limits on devices, or tracking time spent on devices.
Comparing the new results to 2015
Compared with 2015, there are more signs of news fatigue.
The chart below shows a variety of reasons for using news and information. Today, fewer people cite each of these reasons compared with 2015.
Overall, fewer Gen Z and Millennials are finding the news enjoyable or use the news to engage with friends, family, or their community than in our survey in 2015. Only about a third of Gen Z and Millennials, for example, say they use news and information because they find it enjoyable or entertaining, compared with over half who said the same in 2015.
The drop among Gen Z and Millennials who say they like to talk to friends and family about the news fell almost as far, down to 37% from 53% in 2015.
Fewer say the news helps them stay informed to be a better citizen. The percentage of Gen Z and Millennials who say the news helps them decide where to stand on things fell from nearly half in 2015 to just over a third in 2022.
Indeed, almost every metric is notably lower in 2022 than in 2015.
A LESS VARIED NEWS DIET
Seven years ago, the survey suggested that younger Americans’ social media use widened the perspectives they encountered in their lives. That is now less true.
Compared with 2015, Gen Z and Millennials now are twice as likely (12% vs. 24%) to say the opinions they see in their social media feeds are mostly similar to their own instead of mostly different or evenly mixed.
The percentage of Americans who say they see a mix of views in their social media feeds has also declined significantly, from 70% in 2015 to 63% in 2022. While that is still a majority, it is a significant change.
At the same time, perhaps partly in response, we see a slight uptick of those who say they actively seek differing opinions.
Overall, nearly 8 in 10 (78%) Gen Z and Millennials say they tend to investigate opinions different from their own up from 73% in 2015.
Widespread concerns about misinformation
Another new finding involves how the respondents view misinformation. Nearly 9 in 10 say misinformation about current events and important issues is a problem — including 61% who consider it a major problem and 26% who say it is a minor problem. Only 12% say misinformation is not a problem. About 7 in 10 believe they have been personally exposed to misinformation.
But Gen Z and Millennials seem uncertain about whom to blame. They spread the blame for misinformation widely across many different institutions, holding the press just as responsible as institutions such as foreign governments. Indeed, the majority of Gen Z and Millennials equally believe the media, social media companies, the government, and social media users bear blame for misinformation and should have a responsibility to address the problem.
These numbers about misinformation can also be compared with the general population, including Americans older than the group surveyed in this study. Gen Z and Millennials are as worried about misinformation online as are older Americans, (as found in a general population survey of American adults conducted in October 2021).[ref The nationwide poll was conducted by the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the University of Chicago and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research from September 9-13, 2021, using AmeriSpeak®, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. The nationwide poll was conducted through online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones with 1,071 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points. The poll is being released in conjunction with the 2021 Pearson Global Forum, which will address these issues. https://apnorc.org/projects/the-american-public-views-the-spread-of-misinformation-as-a-major-problem/] But Gen Z and Millennials are less worried about being exposed to misinformation than Americans adults overall.
About half of Gen Z and Millennials (48%) worry they have spread misinformation themselves — including 17% who are very or extremely concerned, and 31% who are somewhat concerned.
But they are more inclined to be concerned that they have been exposed to misinformation than think they have personally spread it. They are also more worried that family members have spread false information online than that they have themselves (60% vs. that 48%).
But Gen Z and Millennial Americans are not specific about who they think is responsible for this environment of misinformation or what should be done about it. Instead, they tend to blame all institutions equally and want them all to do something.
When it comes to who is responsible for the spread of misinformation, the news media, politicians, and social media companies top the list along with the U.S. government. But here social media users and foreign governments are held slightly less responsible.
Who then should do something to address misinformation online? Gen Z and Millennials have the same rather broad list in about the same order. The press tops the list, and government, politicians, and social media companies are all close behind.
Concerns about the broader media environment among Millennials and Gen Z
Beyond the spread of misinformation, Gen Z and Millennials have other concerns about the press as well. Majorities of Gen Z and Millennials think the press is too conflict-oriented, passes on conspiracy theories, and makes things up.
More specifically, 6 in 10 Gen Z and Millennials think the press is too focused on conflict. Majorities also see media outlets passing on conspiracy theories and journalists making things up as major problems. Fewer cite journalists having too much opinion in their stories as a major problem.
Continue reading: Trust and expectations
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