Young Americans Learn About Current Events Through Social Media

Making the news more engaging and accessible to youth.

(Big Shot Theory /

Media consumption evolves as quickly as technology and culture does. From the print newspapers that inspired and provoked the American Revolution, to the wartime radio broadcasts – fireside chats — of FDR, to the era of modern television, to online, rather than print, newspaper subscriptions, Americans have adapted to new and innovative ways of getting information about the world around them.

The latest current events revolution is driven by social media. Studies now report that a majority of American youth are engaging with global affairs through the lens of social media. In particular, TikTok has emerged as one of GenZ’s favorite platforms for both entertainment and information. 

TikTok search is on the rise
According to the Brussels Times 40 percent of young people globally use TikTok in place of Google search to locate pertinent information. For Americans in particular, an Adobe report found that 10 percent of Gen Zers as a rule skip Google search and head to TikTok instead, with nearly 65 percent having done so on occasion. By contrast, 49 percent  of millennials, 29 percent of Gen Xers, and only 14 percent of Baby Boomers have ever used TikTok in place of a search engine, highlighting the generation divide over social media as a means of hunting down information. 

A 2023 Pew Survey poll found that 43 percent of Americans get news from Tiktok, up from 22 percent in 2020, with ages 18-29 the demographic most likely to get informed through TikTok content. Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, the CEO of Her Campus Media, a media portfolio that caters to Gen Z, tells Axios  that social media is helping GenZ become more informed about the world around them. “Gen Z is being fed the news whether they want it or not,” she explains.

An engaging and informative platform
So, what keeps GenZ coming back to TikTok for news, as opposed to going to traditional and mainstream media sites? 

“It [TikTok] allows [GenZ] to quickly find content that is manageable, and which suits them very well. Young people also prefer to be visually informed: then they can put a face to it, instead of surfing some website,” De Leyn, Tom De Leyn, a professor of Digitisation and Social Media at UHasselt shares with the Tom De Leyn, a professor of Digitisation and Social Media at UHasselt..

RocaNews is one modern, youth-focused media platform focused on providing visual and engaging information to young people. Max Frost, the president of RocaNews tells Axios that, “The best news [consumption] wouldn't just be digestible. It would be enjoyable, fun, and rewarding.”

Ziad Ahmed, the CEO of JUV Consulting, adds that there are other benefits of using social media for current events. He tells Axios that it democratizes the public square, empowering youth to share their personal experiences with current events through their own eyes.

"We're seeing so many phenomenal, gifted Gen Zers and young people take the microphone and tell their own stories," Ahmed explains. "We learn in the third grade that a primary source is the best source." 

Moderating information?
Whereas, overall TikTok and other social media sites make current events more accessible to GenZ and help engage, connect, and empower youth about world events, Brussels Times cautions that these platforms need more content moderation. 

De Leyn tells De Morgen that using TikTok as a search engine could result in misinformation being spread. “You might look up a well-known person and end up mostly on sensational, not very truthful videos,” he explains.

He adds that Tiktok is optimized for engagement, whereas traditional search engines are optimized for information. “TikTok is also not out to inform you either, it mainly wants to generate as much interaction as possible," De Leyn explains. "So it recommends videos that elicit a lot of reactions, and that users are less likely to verify. TikTok also has much less experience with content moderation and filtering search terms, so you can see it has a long way to go in that area."

By contrast, “"Google tries to direct users as quickly as possible to sites where they can verify suggested information,” De Leyn” explains. "For example, if you look up a well-known person, you usually end up at the relevant Wikipedia page."

However, he adds that TikTok is working on adapting to being used as an information hub, adding links to Wikipedia, search suggestions under videos, and other means of verifying information presented via the platform. Additionally, he cites new European legislation that makes it easier to report illegal content and misinformation.

With social media’s innovative and engaging approach to presenting information and entertaining youth, platforms like TikTok are redefining how young Americans stay informed. While challenges in content moderation persist, the dynamic and visually engaging nature of social media is undeniably making current events more accessible and relatable to the next generation.

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