TikTok is the number one news source for young teenagers, an Ofcom report has found – prompting MPs to warn of the “immensely dangerous” influence of the Chinese-run company.
Findings show the video-sharing app, which is linked to the Chinese government, is the predominant single news source across all platforms for 28 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds.
This represents a nearly three-fold increase from 2020, when Ofcom data shows that TikTok was the main news source for only 11 per cent of the same age group.
Iain Duncan Smith, a senior Conservative MP, who has been sanctioned by the Chinese government for decrying alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, said the development was “immensely dangerous” because TikTok is “under the control of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]”.
“This will now be a very useful resource to use as a propaganda tool to their advantage”.
Data harvester for the CCP
Mr Duncan Smith added: “Others have banned this site because it is also a data harvester for the CCP. When will the British government show some leadership and do the same and stop worrying about upsetting China?”
Tim Loughton, a Conservative MP and former children’s minister who has also been sanctioned by China, said: “This just confirms the huge influence and reach TikTok has, and on the youngest and most impressionable in our society, details of which can all be fed back ultimately to the Chinese government under their national security law.
“Western TikTok is banned in China itself because of the harmful impact it can have, and yet we do nothing in the UK to counter the addictive and potentially damaging effect it can have on our children.”
Ofcom’s findings show that news topics of most interest to younger teens generally are light-hearted, such as ‘sports or sports personalities’ (23 per cent), ‘music news or singers’ (15 per cent), ‘celebrities or famous people’ (11 per cent).
However, eight per cent of this cohort preferred to browse ‘serious things going on in the UK’ (8 per cent) and news about ‘animals or the environment’ (nine per cent).
While the findings show that TikTok has for the first time emerged as the most popular single news source among 12 to 15 year olds, it is outstripped by the BBC when all news content across its platforms are taken into account, which collectively have the highest reach of any news organisation among this age group (39 per cent).
Alicia Kearns, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said: “Let us hope TikTok upholds the freedom of content they purport to protect, and we don’t see BBC and other legitimate sources’ content pushed down the algorithm.”
Consume news online
The findings are part of a broader trend of young people favouring online news sources – particularly social media sites and apps – meaning their direct relationships with traditional news brands are weakening, according to Ofcom.
Ofcom’s News Consumption in the UK 2022/23 report reveals that older teens and young adults aged 16-24 are much more likely to consume news online than adults generally (83 per cent vs. 68 per cent).
People in this age group are also much less likely than the average adult to access news content from traditional media sources, such as TV (47 per cent vs. 70 per cent), radio (25 per cent vs. 40 per cent) and print newspapers (16 per cent vs. 26 per cent).
The study also finds that 16 to 24 year olds are much less likely than other adults to navigate straight to traditional news websites (9 per cent vs. 26 per cent) and more commonly go via social media (37 per cent vs. 24 per cent). This behaviour suggests youngsters have less of a direct connection with established news brands.
Social media platforms dominate the top five most popular news sources among 16 to 24 year olds. Instagram (44 per cent) is the most used single news source, followed by Facebook 33 per cent, Twitter 31 per cent, and TikTok, 29 per cent.