New research reveals children’s relationship with news on social media

‘How do children engage with news on social media’ a new research brief launched on World Press Freedom Day highlights children’s access to news on social media and recommendations for improving engagement with quality, accurate and engaging news content.

03 May 2023

JOHANNESBURG/PRETORIA, 03 May 2023 – More visuals, shorter text and younger voices lead some of the recommendations from children on how to better engage young people with news content on social media platforms, according to new research released on World Press Freedom Day.

Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) and UNICEF South Africa produced the short research paper, How do children engage with news on social media’, to better understand how adolescents, aged 13 to 17-years, in two South African provinces* access and engage with news on social media.

“Access to factual, credible and engaging information is a right for every child and ever more important in today’s environment where misinformation and disinformation are rife, particularly across social media platforms,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative.

“This research aims to help media and organizations working with children and news content to better tailor and to respond to how young people access and engage with news on social media,” added Muhigana.

“With the rapid advances of artificial intelligence it will be increasingly more difficult to know what’s real, what’s accurate and credible, it is essential that children are equipped with the skills to not only find and engage with journalism, but also discern real from rubbish.  The research offers us critical insights as to where we need to go, unsurprisingly children offer the way forward.” said William Bird, MMA.

The research revealed not surprisingly that children’s social media use is primarily entertainment based and about connecting with friends. Despite this, hard news is consumed often alongside catching up on celebrity news or through content shared by friends. The young participants noted that news content could be more engaging by including more audio-visual content, shorter text, and younger voices to present news stories.

News received through family and traditional media is still more trusted and the learners noted that political news is important to stay abreast of current affairs, with some saying it made them feel encouraged and informed, while others felt sad and angry because of corruption and crime.

UNICEF South Africa aims to use the findings to inform its own engagement with both news outlets and children online. MMA plans to use the findings to inform its ‘Reporting on Children in the Media Course’. The Wits Accredited Certificate journalism course brings together practicing journalists on a journey of interactive seminars that aim to deepen their reporting skills so that the news starts to meet children where they are (YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook), without compromising the quality of news that speaks to children’s issues.

Media and digital news literacy programming like MMA’s Web Rangers and Children’s Media Monitoring Project, also work to empower children to see social media as a tool to access up-to-date information and hard news, from which they can make informed decisions about their lives. 

Critical digital and media literacy skills will not only equip children with the ability to spot misinformation and disinformation, but it will also enable children to be more conscious of their media diet. This research also builds on a growing portfolio of studies that look into the broader role of social media on children’s lives, such as the 2022 UNICEF ‘Disrupting Harm’ study.


Notes to editors:

*A total of 48 students took part in the small group discussions, with 24 learners from a school in Rustenburg, North-West province and 24 learners from a school in Johannesburg, Gauteng. Learners were 13 to 17 years old across all components of the study, as 13 years is the minimum age for accessing several social media sites.

Click for more information on the Reporting on Children in the Media Course at Wits

Course highlights will also be shared on social media platforms, @MediamattersZA

Media contacts

Toby Fricker
Chief of Communication & Partnerships
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 61 418 7486
Sudeshan Reddy
Communication Specialist
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 82 561 3970

About MMA

Media Monitoring Africa‘s vision is a responsible, quality media that enables an engaged  and informed citizenry in Africa and across the world. MMA aims to promote the development of a free, fair, ethical and critical media culture in South Africa and the rest of the continent. To achieve MMA’s vision, the three key areas that MMA seeks to address through a human rights-based approach are: media ethics, media quality and media freedom.

For more information about MMA and its work for children visit Follow MMA on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube


UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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