"We've been tracking the growth of WhatsApp for some time but its use for news has jumped significantly in the last year to 15 per cent, with considerable country-based variation," said the authors of the Digital News Report 2017.
This may just be a sign of market saturation, or it may relate to changes in Facebook algorithms in 2016, which prioritised friends and family communication over professional news content, according to the report.
The research, carried out by the Reuters Institute For The Study of Journalism, analysed data from 34 countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia, besides Taiwan and Hong Kong. The study involved responses from over 70,000 people.
Overall, around a quarter (23 per cent) of the respondents said they now find, share, or discuss news using one or more messaging applications.
The researchers found that Viber is a popular choice in parts of Southern and Eastern Europe, while a range of chat applications are used for news across Asia, including WeChat in Hong Kong (14 per cent) and Malaysia (13 per cent), Line in Taiwan (45 per cent) and Japan (13 per cent), while home-grown Kakao Talk (39 per cent) is the top messaging app in South Korea.
At a time when the social media platforms are facing criticism for not doing enough to stop the spread of fake news, the report also revealed that only 24 per cent of the respondents think social media do a good job in separating fact from fiction, compared to 40 per cent for the news media.