WhatsApp became part of the Facebook family in October 2014 when the latter closed on its deal to buy the messaging app for $21 billion. It is now more than two and a half years later and the Social Network is losing its place as a source of news in many markets. Ironically, taking its place is none other than WhatsApp. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism released the results of a study made up of 71,805 respondents from 36 different countries. The survey revealed that in more than half of the 36 markets, the percentage of people that rely on Facebook as a source of news has declined.
Despite that slippage, 47% of survey respondents still head to Facebook to learn what's going on in the world and locally. At first glance, the 15% of those in the survey who said they rely on WhatsApp for information seems like nothing. But when these figures are broken down by country, we see that 51% of those in Malaysia, 46% of Brazilians and 39% of Chileans get their news from WhatsApp.
Getting news from a messaging app doesn't seem intuitive. However, in some locations where talking trash about the government can result in jail time or even death, the encryption employed on the app means that criticism of the administration in charge can be posted without fear of retribution.
Reuters' survey also showed that in the U.S., the number of people who rely on print media as the source of their news has dropped in half from 2013 to 2017. There is an obvious correlation between a person's age and where they get their news from. For example, in all markets, 33% of those 18-24 depend on social media to find out what is going on. That tops online news sites (31%), television (24%) and newspapers (5%). On the other hand, those 55 years of age or older rely on television (51%), online news sites (28%) and newspapers (11%) for the majority of their news. Only 7% in that age group turn to social media to find out what is happening.
Still, if current trends continue, if you're comfortable with social media and want to know what's up, the source of your news could be WhatsApp. This could happen in the U.S. if the current administration continues to exclude the media from briefings and other such news generating meetings that have traditionally been open to the credentialed press.