The Role of Critical Thinking, News Literacy, and Social Media Literacy in the Consumption of Mainstream News Through Social Media Sites Among Adolescents

In recent years there has been an increase in the reliance on social media sites as mainstream news sources, especially among adolescents and young adults (Ku et al., 2019). For example, Matsa (2022) and Liedke and Gottfried (2022) found that in 2022, 10% of Americans turned to TikTok for news, compared to 3% in 2020, with individuals under 30 years old being the most likely to get their news from the app. Not only has there been an increase in the use of social media sites for news consumption, but social media sites have been identified by many adolescents as their preferred news source (Ku et al., 2019). Additionally, research has shown that many Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 trust news that is shared on social media as much as, or more than, they trust news from national news broadcasters (Liedke & Gottfried, 2022). The increased use of social media as a source of news raises concerns as to whether the information is presented accurately to the consumer, as well as whether consumers can accurately assess the legitimacy and reliability of the information presented to them (Ku et al., 2019; Tian, 2022).

Social media sites use algorithms to determine what content users like and dislike. While these algorithms aim to keep the consumer entertained, they play a detrimental role in disseminating mainstream news (Ku et al., 2019). The algorithms note what content consumers are most likely to engage with, and they present the consumer with similar types of content (Ku et al., 2019). In the context of mainstream news, this is concerning, as these algorithms can create situations where consumers are exposed to news that is biased, one-sided, or in line with their existing views, which challenges the consumer’s ability to think critically about the media in front of them (Ku et al., 2019) Additionally, Tian (2022) found that relying on social media sites for news can lead to burnout in which adolescents become overwhelmed with the sheer amount of news available to them across the various social media platforms. In turn, adolescents become less likely to engage meaningfully with mainstream news.

Despite these concerns, social media sites allow adolescents to actively participate in discussions about mainstream news. As such, rather than limiting access to social media among adolescents, they must be regularly taught critical thinking skills. While the current education system tends to discuss these skills already, it would be beneficial to include social media-specific critical thinking skills in the curriculum for all ages. Ku et al. (2019) found that adolescents are generally able to understand the content, context, and political leanings of the news that they come across on social media, while they struggle to evaluate the legitimacy of the sources that the news relies upon. Additionally, adolescents who actively seek out news, as well as those who understand social media algorithms tend to display stronger critical thinking skills than adolescents who do not (Ku et al., 2019) As such, the curriculum surrounding critical thinking should place particular focus on the evaluation of sources. On top of critical thinking skills, adolescents should be taught news literacy skills to prevent the burnout associated with the massive amount of news that is always available to them (Tian, 2022). News literacy includes the ability to critically assess the material that is presented, as well as an understanding of the tactics that different news sources may use to spread their message (Vraga & Tully, 2021). Finally, adolescents must be taught a basic understanding of the mechanics of social media sites. An understanding of social media algorithms, and more specifically, how their interactions with social media content impact the types of content that they will see on their pages in the future would better equip adolescents with the necessary skills to critically evaluate the news that is presented to them (Tian, 2022)

The last few years have seen a drastic increase in the use of social media as a source of mainstream news, especially among adolescents (Liedke & Gottfried, n.d.; Matsa, 2022). While this allows adolescents to be active participants in discourse about mainstream news stories, concerns have been raised as to whether social media sites accurately present and share information with their audience, as well as whether adolescents are prepared to critically assess the information that is presented to them (Ku et al., 2019; Tian, 2022). To maximize the benefits and minimize the risks associated with the consumption of news through social media, education for adolescents about critical thinking, news literacy, and social media literacy should be included in the curriculum in schools (Ku et al., 2019; Tian, 2022; Vraga & Tully, 2021).


Ku, K. Y. L., Kong, Q., Song, Y., Deng, L., Kang, Y., & Hu, A. (2019). What predicts adolescents’ critical thinking about real-life news? The roles of social media news consumption and news media literacy. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 33, 100570.

Liedke, J., & Gottfried, J. (2022). U.S. adults under 30 now trust information from social media almost as much as from national news outlets. Pew Research Center. Retrieved November 9, 2023, from

Matsa, K. E. (2022). More Americans are getting news on TikTok, bucking the trend on other social media sites. Pew Research Center. Retrieved November 7, 2023, from

Tian, Q. (2022). Impact of Social Media News Overload on Social Media News Avoidance and Filtering: Moderating Effect of Media Literacy. Frontiers in Psychology, 13, 862626.

Vraga, E. K., & Tully, M. (2021). News literacy, social media behaviors, and skepticism toward information on social media. Information, Communication & Society, 24(2), 150–166.

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