- Young people in every country are more likely than older people to use digital media
- Young people and older people are least likely to trust social media platforms
- Young people are more trusting than older people in most institutions
Today's 15- to 24-year-olds count on social media and other digital sources to stay informed, but this doesn't mean they trust the information they get from them, a new UNICEF-Gallup study suggests.
Across the mix of 21 low-, middle- and high-income countries surveyed in 2021 for UNICEF's Changing Childhood Project, young people report most often using social media or online news sites to stay informed about current events. A median of 45% of 15- to 24-year-olds say they most often use social media, and another 14% rely most on online news sites.
This stands in sharp contrast with older generations in these countries, who instead are more likely to turn to television to stay up to date on current events. Those aged 40 and older in general are more likely than young people to rely on traditional media such as radio and newspapers.
Multiple bar graphs. 2021 question from UNICEF-Gallup poll asking people in 21 countries, aged 15-24 and 40 and older, which of six media sources they use most often to stay informed about current events -- social media, online news sites, family or friends, radio, television, or newspapers. Young adults tend to rely on social media (45% do), television (15%) and online news sources (14%) as their primary news source, while those aged 40 and older rely on television (39%), social media (17%) radio (13%), and online news sites (11%). Friends or family are mentioned by less than 10% of both groups. Young adults rely much more on social media than their older counterparts do, while the older group relies much more on TV than the younger group does.
These findings come from the Changing Childhood Project, the first international survey to ask different generations for their views on the world and what it is like to be a child today. Between January and June 2021, Gallup conducted the survey for UNICEF, ultimately reaching more than 21,000 people aged 15 to 24 and 40 and older in 21 countries. These countries spanned Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America.
Young People Trust Doctors Most, Social Media Least for Accurate Information
Of all the institutions they are asked about, young people trust doctors and healthcare workers most to provide them with accurate information, with scientists not far behind: A median of 61% trust doctors and healthcare workers a lot, and 56% trust scientists this much.
On average, less than half (45%) say they trust family and friends a lot for accurate information, while at least one in three 15- to 24-year-olds place this much faith in other institutions, such as international media and national media.
Multiple bar graphs. 2021 question from UNICEF-Gallup poll asking people in 21 countries, aged 15-24 and 40 and older, how much they trust various sources to provide them with accurate information. These include (in essentially descending order of trust) doctors and healthcare workers, scientists, friends and family, national news media, police (to protect them), international news media, religious organizations, their national government, and social media. Trust in social media is lowest among both age groups, with 17% of young adults and 12% of older adults saying they trust it "a lot." The highest trust among both groups is in doctors and healthcare workers, with about 6 in 10 of each group saying they trust it a lot. Second is scientists, with 56% (younger adults) and 50% (older adults) placing a lot of trust in them. Biggest differences other than for social media and scientists include international news media (which 36% of young adults trust "a lot," compared with 30% of older adults), religious organizations (32% "a lot of trust" among young adults, vs. 39% among older adults) and the national government (33% of younger adults trust it a lot, while 27% of older adults do). There is little difference between the groups in trust in the police for protection, with just over one-third expressing a lot of trust.
Although young people rely on social media and online sites to keep them informed about current events, of all the institutions they are asked about, young people are the least likely to trust social media platforms a lot to provide them with accurate information.
A median of 17% of young adults say they trust social media platforms this much, which means that young people are twice as likely to place a lot of trust in the accuracy of national (37%) and international media (36%) as they are social media platforms.
Young People Are More Trusting Than Older People in Most Institutions
Apart from the police, religious organizations, and family and friends, young people are more likely than older adults to place a lot of trust in all other institutions. Young people's higher trust in the national government may sound surprising, but it is fully in line with what Gallup has observed in its 15-year trend in people's confidence in their national government.
Both young and older people are least likely to place a lot of trust in social media to provide accurate information. This skepticism is present among young people regardless of whether they rely on social media for their information, while older individuals who rely on social media are more likely to say they trust it a lot.
Today's 15- to 24-year-olds are growing up in a connected world. For them, the internet has always existed -- and for the youngest among them, so has social media. And in the current climate of misinformation and disinformation, it is getting increasingly difficult for people of any age to separate fact from fiction in what they see, read and hear.
Because information -- real or fake -- shapes the decisions young people make about their lives, it is vital to understand which media sources they are using to stay informed and which institutions they trust most to provide accurate information and to keep them safe.