Rise of the Fifth Estate: Nontraditional news sources are now key suppliers of news and information for two-thirds of people globally

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Public Relations

The Fifth Estate has emerged in recent years as both a legitimate major source of news and information, as well as a major societal problem, allowing the spread of unsubstantiated and even malicious misinformation. This alternative but increasingly powerful media form—which encompasses a vast and diverse range of independent commentators, social media users, content creators, and online communities—is certainly not without its challenges, but according to new research from tobacco giant Philip Morris International, it has also created opportunities for established institutions by empowering individuals and citizen-led movements to drive change.

The company’s new global survey-based report examines the increasing influence of the Fifth Estate on public discourse. Most people already interact with and rely on content generated by the Fifth Estate, as their new report, Rethink Disruption: The Rise of the Fifth Estate, reveals that about two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents get news and information from non-mainstream sources. The survey was conducted by independent research firm Povaddo.

Rise of the Fifth Estate: Nontraditional news sources are now key suppliers of news and information for two-thirds of people globally

“The Fifth Estate has become a significant societal force that can be leveraged for good or ill,” said Dr. Moira Gilchrist, chief communications officer at Philip Morris, in a news release. “On the one hand, the digital technologies that underpin it enable everyday people to stand up for what matters to them and help drive broad societal action. On the other, this new power center can favor emotion and ideology over facts, perpetuating polarization and misinformation. The question facing businesses, regulators, and society at large concerns how we can help steer this emerging force in a positive direction and address the valid concerns being expressed.”

These non-traditional sources, the survey shows, impact people’s daily lives. When asked whether they had taken any action based on information or recommendations from Fifth Estate sources, respondents said they “talked to friends or family about something I read” (90 percent), “made an online purchase” (84 percent), “browsed a company’s website” (84 percent), and/or “made an in-store / in-person purchase” (79 percent). Notably, 69 percent reported that they had changed their views about a particular issue based on the information to which they were exposed.

Rise of the Fifth Estate: Nontraditional news sources are now key suppliers of news and information for two-thirds of people globally

Because of its growing prevalence, the Fifth Estate elicits plenty of concerns

Survey respondents stated that individuals and non-mainstream media pose a significant risk in terms of spreading misinformation (59 percent), sharing opinions without evidence (53 percent), and lacking transparency on sourcing (50 percent). Many respondents also highlighted its divisive potential, noting significant risks in terms of enabling the spread of radical ideologies (47 percent), exacerbating societal divisions (44 percent), and fueling cancel culture (40 percent).

As seen in the survey results, most people want governments, regulators, and platform owners to support positive change online by improving law enforcement’s ability to investigate and hold to account those who misuse internet platforms, implementing initiatives to improve transparency, and combating the generation and spread of misinformation. Individuals, too, have a role to play by verifying authenticity before sharing content, insisting on sources that fact-check information, and seeking out a variety of opinions to inform their views.

Rise of the Fifth Estate: Nontraditional news sources are now key suppliers of news and information for two-thirds of people globally

“For PMI, embracing the voices of individuals—most vitally, adult smokers—and encouraging a people-centric debate involving policymakers, public health authorities, and civil society is critical to achieving our ambition of a smoke-free future—a future in which cigarettes have been made obsolete,” said Dr. Gilchrist. “The Fifth Estate can accelerate this future by prioritizing accuracy and science-based facts to empower those adults who would otherwise continue to smoke to change to better alternatives.”

Download the full report here.

Povaddo conducted the online survey on behalf of PMI between December 6 and 13, 2023. The survey was fielded among 6,048 general population adults aged 21 and older in six countries: Brazil, Italy, South Africa, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Approximately 1,000 interviews were administered in each country. Data were collected in a balanced way to reflect national population statistics and were not weighted. Results are accurate to a margin of error of ±1 percent at the overall level.

Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 17 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richard.carufel@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter