Meet the youth reframing the news for TikTok, YouTube
Wednesday March 22 2023
In the suburbs of Madrid, four young women work hard creating videos summarising news viewed every day by millions of people on TikTok.
They are part of a growing army of young people making content about current events which attract more viewers on social media than videos published by the traditional media.
Two of the women came up with the idea while studying in London between 2016 and 2020 as Britain was preparing to leave the European Union (EU).
“We would read a bunch of articles, but we weren't able to get a broad understanding of the topics,” said 26-year-old biotechnology graduate Gabriela Campbell.
"We thought if it's hard for us, then there must be more people like us too," she told AFP.
So, the pair joined forces with two other friends to launch a TikTok account called "ac2ality" in June 2020, just as the popularity of the Chinese short-video sharing app was soaring among young people.
Read: Trouble mounts for China's TikTok
Nearly three years on, the account has 4.3 million followers, more than the majority of major media outlets.
According to the University of Oxford's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, ac2ality is the leading Spanish news account on TikTok.
The four do not consider themselves journalists, saying instead they "translate the news" in one-minute videos made with a smartphone and a circular light to ensure well-lit images.
Their video narrating the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022 has been viewed over 17 million times.
Social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok have become the main source of news for young people, according to several studies, including one by Britain's media regulator Ofcom.
“Some initiatives offering news content designed by young people for young people such as French firm Brut, have already become heavyweights,” Reuters Institute researcher Nic Newman said.
“Thanks to algorithms, news accounts run by individuals and not necessarily companies can now reach huge numbers of people on social media,” he said.
Read: OMONDI: Are social media algorithms perpetuating biases online?
In France, HugoDecrypte is one of the most followed news accounts on social media and has broadcast interviews with French President Emmanuel Macron and renowned billionaire, Bill Gates.
Its founder, 25-year-old YouTuber Hugo Travers, told AFP he knew how to talk to a generation that simply "tuned out" when news was presented in a traditional format.
Susana Perez Soler, a journalist and digital communications expert at Barcelona's Ramon Lull University, said such accounts owe their popularity to their lighter tone, creative formats and short lengths.
“In cases like ac2ality, they are providing a summary of the news and not journalism which requires investigative work, finding sources and checking their reliability,” she added.
'I'm my own editor'
These accounts’ millions of subscriptions have aroused the envy of major media outlets which struggle to reach young people.
A large Spanish media firm made a bid for ac2ality, but the four founders wanted to maintain their independence.
Co-founder Daniela Alvarez said one of the keys to ac2ality's success was not being associated with the mainstream media which could sometimes be "politicized" or burdened by cumbersome procedures.
Some journalists who work for traditional media outlets also run their own news accounts on social media.
Sophia Smith Galer, a 28-year-old British journalist with Vice News, has an account on TikTok where her videos on sexual health have been watched more than 130 million times.
"You don't have to convince a gate-keeping news editor why a story is important," she told AFP. I am my own editor on that,” she told AFP.
"What young people consider to be newsworthy is not necessarily what traditional news media think is newsworthy. Those between 15 and 30 do still turn to traditional media in some cases,” said Newman, a researcher.
"When you talk about something like Ukraine, a lot of young people don't want that presented to them by 18-year-olds. They want the news presented by people who are actually in the war zone and really know what they're talking about," he added.