A growing number of EU citizens say they use the Internet to get information about the European Union, while daily newspapers are significantly losing ground and television remains the primary source of EU news, a Union-wide poll reveals.
Almost one in three EU citizens (30%) browse the Internet when they are looking for information about the EU, its policies and its institutions, according to figures extracted from national editions of the latest Standard Eurobarometer published by the European Commission in February.
This represents an increase of two percentage points from 28% when a previous poll was conducted in 2007.
The daily printed press is used less frequently than in the past to access EU news, down to 32% of citizens interviewed compared to 41% in 2007.
Should this trend continue then in the near future the Internet is likely to overtake the printed press as the public's primary source of information on EU affairs. Indeed, this is already the case among young adults and adolescents.
48% of people aged between 15 and 24 already use the Internet as their main source of information about the EU, before television (47%) and the daily printed press (22%).
Adults aged between 25 and 39 also prefer the Internet (44%) to the printed press (28%), but not ahead of TV (50%). Among the middle-aged the Internet is less relevant.
In many EU member states, ranging from France to Poland, the population as a whole already prefers the Internet to the printed press, and in those EU countries with the highest Web usage, the Internet has already overtaken television.
In Sweden 52% of those surveyed use the Internet to find out more about the EU and only 45% watch television with the same aim. Similar situations are seen in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands.
Except for those few exceptions, television remains the primary source of information about the EU for most citizens in Europe. However, it is clearly losing ground. In 2007, 63% of the sample said they used TV to keep abreast of EU current affairs. In November 2010, when the latest figures were collected, this percentage had fallen to 56%.
Interviewees were offered multiple choices, which explains why the overall percentage for combined use of all three media types is over 100%.
The role of social media
The increasing role played by the Internet in spreading and gathering information about the EU is also a result of the recent social media revolution, with social networking websites such as Facebook or Twitter attracting growing numbers of users in Europe and around the world.
42% of Europeans agree that social media are "a modern way to keep abreast of political affairs". Only 24% oppose this view. What's more, Europeans consider that online social networks are not only a source of information on political issues, but also a way to engage actively in political life, as demonstrated by the role played by social media in the recent revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.
41% of the interviewees described social networking websites as a good way to "have your say on political affairs" (only 23% are against them). Another 41% consider social media as a useful way of getting people interested in political affairs, with 24% taking the opposite view.
These figures explain why the EU institutions are increasing their presence on online social platforms, albeit only slowly. A number of commissioners and their spokespeople have recently opened Facebook and Twitter profiles.
The percentage of MEPs using online social networks has also more than doubled in recent times, according to a study carried out by communications consultancy Fleishman-Hillard.
However, much remains to be done. Most European citizens do not yet consider as trustworthy the content found in online networks. 37% think that information on political affairs "cannot be trusted" as seen on social media. Only 23% disagree with this view.