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What do we know about the rise of alternative voices and news influencers in social and video networks?

What do we know about the rise of alternative voices and news influencers in social and video networks?

17th June 2024

In recent years large social and video networks, offering powerful creator tools and free global distribution, have provided a platform for an increasingly wide range of voices and perspectives. Most of this content has nothing to do with news. Much of it generates very little attention, but some accounts and individuals have become increasingly influential around politics, and a range of other subjects.  

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As we discussed in the Executive Summary, in newer networks such as TikTok and Instagram as well as in long-standing video platforms like YouTube, mainstream media are significantly challenged by a range of so-called online influencers, creators, and assorted personalities, as well as smaller, alternative news outlets and ordinary people. This contrasts with older networks such as Facebook and X where mainstream media and journalists still tend to lead the conversation when it comes to news, albeit with strong competition from the other sources.

But what kind of online influencers and alternative voices are we talking about? Which groups are paying most attention to them, and what type of ‘news’ do they discuss? How reliable is the information they share and what does this mean for wider society? 

In this chapter we explore these questions in five countries (United States, United Kingdom, France, Argentina, and Brazil) through analysing open survey responses across six of the most popular networks for news – Facebook, X, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok.  In our survey we asked a random selection of those that used each network for news to state where they paid attention (mainstream media and their journalists or one or more of the alternative sources). Based on these selections, we then asked them to name up to three mainstream and alternative accounts they followed most closely that related to news and counted the most popular individuals and news brands from the combined data. This methodology, which relies on recall, is likely to underplay the long tail of small accounts that characterises this space, but it does give us some idea about the biggest alternative accounts in each country, as well as their relative importance compared with mainstream media and journalists. 

It is important to note that this methodology draws on audience perceptions of what is meant by news, and this definitional issue is most relevant when discussing the online influencers and personalities category. As well as news creators and commentators, we find it also includes celebrities such as Taylor Swift and Lionel Messi who rarely talk about topics like politics directly. Their inclusion, however, shows that many younger users, in particular, take a wide view of news, including updates on music, sport, food, fitness, fashion, and travel.

In the lists below, we have chosen to focus on journalists, influencers, and alternative voices that mostly address issues of news and politics head-on in their social and video accounts (setting aside celebrities) and we compare these with news brands that do the same. 

United States

Tucker Carlson

In the Executive Summary we noted that the United States has a much higher use of YouTube for news compared with many other countries, with a high proportion of those users who say they are paying attention to alternative news sources.  X is another important network for alternative voices in the US, where creators have been encouraged in recent years by owner Elon Musk. The network has recently refocused its strategy on video and is supporting commentators like Tucker Carlson, who was dismissed by Fox News, and has subsequently built a significant audience there. 

Our list of the most mentioned individuals is headed by Carlson along with Joe Rogan who runs a successful daily show on YouTube (as well as Spotify). It is striking that all of the most mentioned (top ten) individual names are known for political commentary or chat rather than original newsgathering. Most of the content is partisan with little or no attempt to put the other side, and the entire top ten list is made up of men. Many of these names can hardly be called ‘alternative’, as they often come with decades of experience from legacy media, having previously been fixtures for years on traditional cable or talk radio networks. 

Some of these US individuals are attached to wider online networks, such as the Daily Wire and Blaze TV (conservative) and Young Turks and Medias Touch (progressive) that contain multiple creators within a wider brand.  But whatever the politics, the look is remarkably consistent – somewhere between a podcast and a TV broadcast – with mostly male hosts armed with oversized microphones talking to mostly male guests.    

The contentious nature of some of this content often doesn’t appeal to advertisers, so some personalities have focused on other ways of generating money such as appealing directly for donations or selling merchandise. A few, such as Tucker Carlson, are trying out premium subscriptions, which provide additional content or networking opportunities for a fee. Alternative voices received more citations in total from our US sample than traditional media, but mainstream media brands and their journalists still accounted for 42% of mentions. The biggest brand, CNN, was mentioned five times more than the biggest individual account (Tucker Carlson). Mainstream media anchors such as Anderson Cooper (CNN) and David Muir (ABC) also featured lower down the list.

Mainstream news brands and journalists struggle to cut though on TikTok. Alternative news accounts tend to be more prominent, such as @underthedesknews which features creator V Spehar presenting news updates from a lying down position – to contrast with the formulaic ‘over the desk’ approach on mainstream TV. The account has over 3 million subscribers with content aimed at explaining current events and news for younger audiences. 

Other widely mentioned accounts include celebrities, businessmen, politicians, and other public figures. Elon Musk regularly posts content on subjects such as free speech, AI, and the failings of mainstream media to his 150 million followers. Donald Trump has 65 million followers on X and 6.5 million on Truth Social.

Big on YouTube and TikTok

The Young Turks: A long running progressive news commentary show that also appears on selected streaming TV channels. Vitus ‘V’ Spehar: A TikToker that has become a go-to source for GenZ and Millennials for news.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, traditional news brands established an early and strong presence in social media networks such as Twitter (X) and Facebook, but have been slower to adapt to newer networks. This has opened the door for alternative voices and news creators in networks such as Instagram and TikTok that have become key channels for under 35s. 

When analysing our open responses overall we find that, unlike the United States, it is mainstream media brands such as the BBC and Sky, rather than alternative accounts, that still gain most attention, especially on X and Facebook. These big brands are more challenged on YouTube and TikTok by a range of youth-orientated outlets such as Politics Joe, LADbible, and TLDR – and also by a range of more partisan political outlets such as Novara Media as well as individual creators. 

When it comes to our list of top ten individual accounts, however, we also find many more journalists from mainstream media brands than in the United States. Topping the list is James O’Brien (LBC/Global), who has been particularly effective on YouTube and TikTok with outspoken, smartly packaged video clips from his radio show regularly going viral. Robert Peston, political correspondent from traditional broadcaster ITV and an early adopter of social media, is in second place. Also represented is former CNN, ITV, and TalkTV host Piers Morgan who recently took his eponymous Uncensored show online-only to get round what he calls the ‘unnecessary straitjacket’ of TV schedules.  

As in the United States, there is a clear absence of women in the most-mentioned list.  Partisan perspectives are provided, on the left, by columnist and author Owen Jones and on the right by TV hosts from GB News. These include Nigel Farage, former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and Neil Oliver, whose controversial views on lockdowns and vaccinations have led to complaints to the broadcast regulator Ofcom.1 

Comedian Russell Brand attracts an eclectic crowd for his outspoken, libertarian, and anti-mainstream media views expressed mainly via YouTube and Rumble. Sports journalists David Ornstein and Fabrizio Romano, both with a reputation for football transfer scoops, are widely followed, as are others with specialist knowledge such as Dan Neidle, a former high-profile lawyer who breaks stories about dodgy tax affairs of the rich and famous.2  Influencer Dylan Page, 25, operates what he claims is the biggest English-language news account on TikTok (10.8m followers). Celebrities, such as BBC football presenter and podcast entrepreneur Gary Lineker (9m followers on X) tweet from time to time about politics and refugees. Elon Musk’s tweets are also widely followed in the UK. 

Big on YouTube and TikTok

Politics Joe: Accessible, hard hitting, often longer, videos aimed at U35s. 523,000 subscribers on YouTube. Dylan Page: Covers serious and lighter issues relevant to young audience (e.g. gaming, politics, bizarre stories).


In France, we find mainstream media challenged on social and video platforms by a range of alternative media including a number of young news influencers. Head and shoulders above the others is YouTuber and podcaster Hugo Travers, 27, known online as Hugo Décrypte, (literally Hugo Deciphers … the news). With 2.6 million subscribers on his main channel on YouTube and 5.7 million on TikTok, he has become a leading news source for young French people.  

Travers interviews Macron
Travers interviews French President Emmanuel Macron in 2023

In our survey data, Décrypte received more mentions than Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Liberation combined. His followers had an average age of 27, around 20 years younger than many other news brands. Travers regularly interviews top politicians and global figures such as Bill Gates. The social media generation ‘won’t start reading a newspaper or watching the news on TV at 30’, he says.3 Youth-focused news brands such as Brut and Konbini have also built large audiences via social and video distribution. Brut has 2.1 million followers on YouTube, 3.8 million on Instagram, and 6.3 million on TikTok, with Konbini a little way behind. This level of engagement highlights the weakness of many traditional French news brands, which still primarily cater for older elites and have been slow to innovate through social platforms. 

This dynamic has also spawned a wave of ideologically motivated investigation sites such as Le Media, Blast, and Pure Politique, which often criticise traditional news organisations for underplaying issues such as corruption, media ownership, and ecology. Most of these sites are co-operatives and rely on crowdfunding.   

Young and older influencers

Hugo Clément, Salomé Saqué, Éric Zemmour,  Pascal Praud
From l-r: Hugo Clément, Salomé Saqué, Éric Zemmour and Pascal Praud

Protecting the environment has become an important theme for alternative voices. Hugo Clément (32) and Salomé Saqué (28) are two prominent alternative voices, who have built their ecological reputations through social media but now appear regularly on mainstream media. 

Meanwhile many older, male, right-leaning commentators who built their careers via broadcast, such as Pascal Praud and former presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, are extending their influence through like-minded and mostly older communities on X and Facebook. 


Latin American nations are some of the highest users of social and video networks in our Digital News Report, as well as some of the fastest adopters of new networks. In Argentina, we find that mainstream brands and their journalists continue to attract most attention across a wide range of networks when it comes to news. Instagram plays a far bigger role than in the United States or Europe, while YouTube and TikTok are growing fast. 

In Argentina, we find the top named individuals are all men, including many popular radio or TV hosts whose content has been repackaged for social channels. Mate con Mote, a YouTuber and TikTok influencer, makes videos about politics with humour and social commentary.   

In keeping with Argentina’s polarised politics, we also find regular mentions of right-wing, left-wing, and libertarian influencers. El Presto is a COVID denier who encouraged public gatherings during the Argentine lockdowns and has 460,000 followers on YouTube. Iñaqui Gutiérrez is a 22-year-old student who set up and runs the TikTok account of the Argentinian president Javier Milei. He’s an influencer in his own right with a big following on Instagram (550,000), TikTok (500,000), and X (279,000). He says his views represent the views of many young people who feel let down by the politics of the left.   

A number of our respondents also mentioned paying attention to the social accounts of Milei himself (5.6m on Instagram and 2.1m on TikTok) and to those of the main presidential spokesman. But these numbers are dwarfed by footballer Lionel Messi who was regularly cited and has amassed 500 million followers on Instagram alone. 


Brazil follows a similar pattern to Argentina with the biggest news brands such as Globo, Record, and CNN Brasil working with TV hosts to build profiles and influence in social channels. Many long-standing (or former) broadcasters, often with a reputation for conservative political commentary, have extended their influence through a range of social channels. Alexandre Garcia, who heads the list, was accused of spreading false information about the COVID-19 pandemic, with hundreds of videos removed from his YouTube account.4  He is a supporter of former President Jair Bolsonaro. 

One distinctive feature of Brazilian social media is the prominence of celebrity journalists and influencers. Leo Dias and Hugo Gloss have Instagram followings of more than 15 million but they combine this with their own websites as well as working closely with traditional media portals to extend their reach. Fashion- or music- based influencers such as Virgínia Fonseca (46m followers on YouTube) and Carlinhos Maia (30m) are also widely mentioned in our data though they rarely discuss political or social issues. They mostly make money from advertising and product endorsements. 

As in Argentina, Brazilian politicians have blazed a trail on social media, allowing them to build direct connections with voters and to some degree bypass scrutiny by traditional media. Current President Lula da Silva has 13 million followers on Instagram; Bolsonaro has 12 million on X. 


It is extremely difficult to measure the extent of news being consumed in social and video networks given the range of accounts and subjects being discussed, but our approach has helped to understand a little more about some of the most influential accounts, the balance of attention between mainstream and other news brands and individual influencers and personalities. 

Looking across our five selected countries we find that news-related accounts of any kind are cited much more often in Brazil, the United States, and Argentina than they are in the UK or France. This is in line with greater use of social media for news in those countries. 

In the United States and Brazil we also see a greater number of alternative news or individual accounts cited as opposed to mainstream news brands and journalists, suggesting that the trend towards news creators and influencers is far more developed in these large markets.   

In the United Kingdom, by contrast, mainstream media brands and journalists account for the majority of citations. There is a more even split in Argentina and France, where the most mentioned account overall is a young news creator. 

Digging further into the content itself, we find that many of the most cited accounts belong to partisan political commentators (from left and right) producing content that, on the one hand, often stands outside what would normally be published by the news media but who, on the other hand, often have worked for many years in legacy media. Some of these creators have been criticised for factual inaccuracies and for spreading conspiracies or misleading narratives, even as they are highly trusted by those who share their political views. Many of the  commentators now committed to online distribution emphasise their ability to speak freely (e.g., Tucker Carlson Unfiltered, Piers Morgan Uncensored), setting themselves up as an alternative to a mainstream media that they say ‘suppresses the truth’ or is driven by ‘elite and corporate interests’. But any increase in the range of views is not matched by diversity, with the most popular accounts mostly white and male, in the five countries studied. 

A second important trend is the popularity of news creators and influencers that speak to younger audiences, mostly using video formats. In France, Hugo Décrypte is blazing a trail in trying to make news more accessible and entertaining, along with V Spehar in the United States and Dylan Page in the UK. Brands such as Brut, Politics Joe, and TLDR News are engaging a large number of under 35s using younger hosts, as well as a different agenda, including more content about climate, social justice, and mental health.  

In some countries, especially in Latin America, we also see evidence that populist politicians are building attention across a range of social networks including Instagram, X, YouTube, and TikTok, enabling them to get their messages out directly to supporters, effectively bypassing traditional media. Completing the picture are celebrities and social media influencers whose followings vastly outstrip journalists and politicians, even if they rarely get drawn into contentious subjects such as politics. 

The vitality of alternative voices in social and video networks in some ways highlights perceived weaknesses of news organisations on such issues as trust, diversity, and digital storytelling – at least with some people. In that sense, traditional media have much to learn on how to better engage audiences in this increasingly complex and competitive space.


Anchor1 Oliver was cleared by Ofcom over suggestions that he had materially misled the audience after suggesting that vaccines led to turbo-cancer with young people. His live show was subsequently moved online.


Anchor3 Hugo Travers interview with the New York Times, June 2022.


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