A pivotal shift is reshaping the way Generation Z perceives and consumes news. This digital native generation finds itself at odds with the limited perspectives often propagated by established news outlets.
The allure of quick updates and engaging formats has also made them stray from the conventional news. They now seek information in social media’s diverse, stimulating, and occasionally chaotic realm.
GEN Z LACKS TRUST
As per the 2023 Arab Youth survey, the region’s younger population is significantly characterized by its extensive use of social media. With 77% active online, they dedicate over 3.5 hours daily scrolling through various feeds and timelines.
About 92% of the survey’s participants attribute the spread of disinformation and inadequate oversight to big tech, urging social media companies to take more decisive action against fake news.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply a greater trust in traditional media.
Despite the prevalence of fake news across social media platforms, Gen Z continues to turn to these platforms for news for a multitude of reasons.
Fifteen-year-old student Nicole Aziz says she goes to social media for information. However, she still distrusts these digital platforms. “Social media is not a trusted source of information. There’s always an influx of posts surrounding a certain incident, and usually, they’re all contradicting each other. Not knowing where to look can cause teenagers, like myself, to be misinformed.”
The longing for diverse viewpoints and unfiltered narratives has fueled a significant departure from convention, driving Gen Z to seek truth and context in social media platforms. Aziz says social media also allows her to look at different posts of the same news, offering her multiple perspectives and a broader understanding of a situation.
News content creator Jeida Elkersh says the perception of traditional media has drastically changed due to a shift in media consumption. “People are now more exposed to unfiltered, raw narratives which can make “polished” content more questionable. This is also partly influenced by traditional media’s ability or inability to adapt to new formats and cater to the audience in their own language and interest.”
Talking about trustworthy content, Elkersh says, “Establishing trust starts with the creation process. As an educational platform, you need to be aware that the audience will depend on you to receive their information. This comes with the responsibility of verifying every piece of information multiple times.”
Dr. Viola Gjylbegaj, Assistant Professor of Mass Communication at Abu Dhabi University, reinstates the reasons young people go to social media for news, saying these platforms have played a pivotal role in shaping the evolving landscape of news consumption.
“The younger generation often turns to these platforms for breaking news, diverse perspectives, and personalized content. The ease of sharing information on social media enables stories to gain rapid and widespread attention, sometimes surpassing traditional media in reach,” says Gjylbegaj.
She says independent news websites and citizen journalism provide a more democratized information ecosystem than traditional media, incentivizing younger generations to trust them more.
THE RISE OF CONTENT CREATORS
Currently, the world hosts more than 200 million content creators, with the influencer marketing industry reaching a valuation of $21.1 billion by the close of 2023. Additionally, the emergence of numerous new social startups contributes to a total creator economy surpassing $104.2 billion.
According to Goldman Sachs research, the creator economy’s total addressable market might reach $480 billion by 2027.
Gjylbegaj says the rise of digital platforms has impacted traditional media. “There is a greater emphasis on immediacy, visual storytelling, and interactive elements. Infographics, live updates, and multimedia content have become integral to news dissemination.”
Elkersh creates content that matches what younger audiences are looking for. “I simplify complex topics to educate a young Arab audience. The goal is to encourage them to reflect and analyze things that may influence their mind and perception, thereby shaping how they live their lives.”
“I use visually interesting formats, a catchy editing style, and, most importantly, lay down the information in a relatable way. No matter how complicated the topic is, the mastery is in expressing it in the simplest way possible.”
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
According to 15-year-old Erini Isaac, traditional media needs to engage with the audience and address their concerns.
The sentiment is reinforced by Aziz, who says, “Responding to viewers’ concerns makes them feel seen.”
Gjylbegaj says young individuals tend to view traditional media as relatively slow and less engaging due to the shift caused by social media channels, which integrate audience feedback, disrupting the traditional one-way communication model.
“The preference for user-generated content and the participatory nature of social media have contributed to a decline in the authority traditionally associated with mainstream media. For example, younger audiences rely on Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok for real-time updates and diverse perspectives during breaking news events.”
Elkersh emphasizes the importance of content creators listening to their audience, considering the value their content brings to an audience, and honoring their audience’s time. “Everyday content subconsciously shapes the mind and influences people’s emotional state and well-being. This means creators need to make sure their content is of service and encourage people to reflect on their content consumption.”
Although traditional media provide more accurate information than social media, Isaac believes creating more engaging content is key to gaining a younger audience.
Gjylbegaj says traditional media outlets must diversify their perspectives and engage with their audience on digital platforms.
“Fact-checking and rigorous journalism standards should be highlighted to combat misinformation. Collaborations with social media influencers or partnerships with digital platforms can help traditional media outlets reach younger audiences. Moreover, acknowledging and addressing biases and providing more interactive and engaging content can enhance the overall appeal and credibility of traditional media.”