When I start typing “how to” in the YouTube search box right now, I can see based on the auto-fills that people are coming to the Google-owned streaming video site to find out how to do everything from tying a tie to learning how to draw, how to solve a Rubik’s cube and even tackle some Fortnite business.
That’s interesting, because while you’d think most people are there to binge on cat videos, the content of prominent YouTubers, and who knows what else to pass the time, a new survey shows that people are actually a lot more curious than that.
A Pew Research Center survey of almost 4,600 U.S. adults found, among other things, that 51 percent of YouTube users say they’ve come to the site for the how-to videos. To learn how to do new things, and not just sigh over cute cat videos. “Roughly half of YouTube users say the platform is very important for helping them figure out how to do things they’ve never done before,” the Pew survey reports. “That works out to 35% of all U.S. adults, once both users and non-users of the site are accounted for. And around one-in-five YouTube users (representing 13% of the total adult population) say it is very important for helping them understand events that are happening in the world.”
The flip side to that, of course, is that even though users may want to use that site to help them better understand the world around them, many also say they’re increasingly having negative experiences on the platform. Around 64 percent of users told the Pew team they “sometimes” encounter seemingly false or untrue videos while watching content, and another 60 percent say they sometimes come across videos that depict people in “dangerous or troubling” situations. Perhaps most ominous of all, 61 percent of parents who let their young children watch YouTube content say they’ve come across videos they felt were not appropriate for young people.
The Pew findings are instructive, especially when you think about the midterm elections this week and the digital channels most people turn to when they want to consume news. Most social feeds aren’t what they once were, at least for news consumption, but while YouTube wasn’t developed as a news site per se, more and more users are using it for exactly that.
Pew data shows that the amount of YouTube users who get news from the platform almost doubled between 2013 and 2018 (from 20 percent to 38 percent). “And this new survey,” according to Pew, “finds that around half (53%) of YouTube users say the site is at least somewhat important for helping them understand things that are happening in the world — with 19% saying it is very important to them for this reason.”