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Nobody goes to Facebook for news, but they read it when they're there

Duane Hoffman/NBC News
Duane Hoffman/NBC News

If you're like most Facebook users in the United States, you don't log on to the world's largest social network to keep abreast of news beyond, say, how your friend's doctor's appointment went yesterday, fresh cat photos or what your sister's husband's uncle's views are on the Affordable Care Act.

Once you're there, however, you will click on links to actual news stories your friends have posted. So says the latest study from the Pew Research Center, which found that one in three Americans inadvertently get news through Facebook. "People go to Facebook to share personal moments — and they discover the news almost incidentally," Amy Mitchell, Pew director of journalism research, said in a statement. 

News consumption is important to Facebook, which is in steep competition with both Twitter and Google to be the world's official portal to everything on the Internet. Those ubiquitous icons after every online news story you read represent a bloody competition — you "like," "tweet," or "stumble upon" stuff, and in so doing, the social networks can prove to advertisers and/or stock holders that they are viable money-making operations. Facebook aggressively courts media companies in order to show that engaging the social network's chief product — you, the user — is a great way to drive traffic to news websites. 

The initial findings from this ongoing project — run by the Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation — seem lukewarm for Facebook, which takes a backseat to Twitter as the place people turn to for breaking news. According to the study, 62 percent of Facebook users who actively follow the news don't consider Facebook as an important news source.

But 47 percent of Facebook users who follow the news "some of the time" do consider the social network a viable outlet. What's more, as Mitchell points out, "The serendipitous nature of news on Facebook may actually increase its importance as a source of news and information, especially among those who do not follow the news closely."

"This study adds to our understanding of the way social media is transforming how news is shared and consumed. The implications for media organizations are significant — through the data they can gain insights on the behavior and preferences of the people they are trying to reach, and identify new engagement opportunities," said Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation vice president for strategy and assessment.

Here are some of the study's other findings: 

  • Facebook news consumers still access other platforms for news to roughly the same degree as the population overall. 
  • Roughly half (49 percent) of Facebook news consumers report regularly getting news on six or more different topics. 
  • Roughly two-thirds (64 percent) of Facebook news consumers say they at least sometimes click on news links, and 60 percent at least sometimes like or comment on stories. 
  • Roughly two-thirds (64 percent) of Facebook news consumers say they at least sometimes click on news links, and 60 percent at least sometimes like or comment on stories.
  • News outlets rank low among the reasons Facebook news consumers click on news links. The biggest single reason people cite for clicking on links is interest in the topic; 70 percent name this as a major reason to click on news links.
  • Facebook news consumers who "like" or follow news organizations or journalists show high levels of news engagement on the site. About a third (34 percent) of Facebook news consumers have news organizations or individual journalists in their feeds.

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah abut the Internet. Tell her to get a real job on Twitter and/or Facebook.