WASHINGTON, DC: Americans searching out news online turn equally to news websites and social media, and while most are aware of news sources a significant minority thinks that Facebook is a news outlet, research has shown.

Pew Research Center surveyed more than 2,000 online news consumers about how they arrived at news content in their most recent web interaction (this involved two short surveys per day over seven days asking about online news seen in the past two hours).

It found that they had gone directly to a news website on 36% of the times they got news online, and to social media 35% of the times. They were less likely to access news through search engines (20%), emails/text messages from a news organization (15%) or emails/text messages from friends or family (7%).

Further, most people favoured one pathway over another, with two-thirds (65%) of online news consumers expressing clear preferences for one particular route.

The study also asked those people who said they followed a link to a news story to write down the name of the news outlet they landed on.

On average, they provided a name 56% of the time, but, as one might expect, they were far more able to do so when that link came directly from a news organization (via an email or text alert, for example) than when it came from social media or an email or text from a friend.

It was also the case, Pew noted, that 10% of these respondents, when asked to name the source of the news, wrote in "Facebook" as a specific news outlet, a finding which may trouble media owners who have increasingly turned to social media as a distribution method.

"That speaks to the challenge that may exist with trying to create brand awareness, source awareness, and direct connection with your audience," observed Amy Mitchell, Pew's director of journalism research.

Data sourced from Pew Research Center, Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff