Most Americans oppose plan to regulate social media

Updated 01 Jun 2020

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The surveys showed that social media sites had emerged as a prominent source of news for many Americans. — AFP/File
The surveys showed that social media sites had emerged as a prominent source of news for many Americans. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Most Americans do not want their government to take steps to curb online misinformation as they fear it could limit their freedoms, noted a report released by a US think tank this week.

The report, a summary of various recent surveys on social media outlets, also found that Americans were more open to tech companies taking action to curb misinformation.

The Washington-based Pew Research Centre said its report should be viewed in the backdrop of President Donald Trump’s executive order last week that aimed at discouraging social media companies from censoring posts. The order followed a decision by Twitter earlier to add fact-checking labels to two of Trump’s tweets, even as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he was against internet companies’ fact-checking political speech.

In one of the surveys carried out in Feb and March 2018, 56 per cent of respondents said tech companies should take steps to restrict false information online, even if it limited freedom of information. Around four-in-ten (42pc) said freedom of information should be protected even if it meant false information getting published.

Republicans were about evenly divided on this question (50pc vs 48pc), while most Democrats (60pc) said tech companies should take steps to restrict false information online.

“Notably, Americans were more open to tech companies restricting false information online than they were about the government doing the same,” the report pointed out.

Only about four-in-ten adults (39pc) said the government should take steps to restrict false information online, while 58pc said freedom of information should be protected even if it means false information can be published.

About seven-in-ten Americans (72pc) said in a May and June 2018 survey that they believed social media sites intentionally censored political viewpoints they find objectionable. And 43pc American adults said major technology companies favoured liberals over conservatives, while 11pc said they supported the views of conservatives over liberals. But 43pc said tech companies supported the views of both liberals and conservatives equally.

A minority of Americans, less than 25pc, said tech companies could be trusted to do the right thing. Roughly half of the public (51pc) said they should be regulated more than they were now.

The surveys also showed that social media sites had emerged as a prominent source of news for many Americans. About three-in-ten Americans said that they got their news on social media.

Americans were split on whether fact-checkers favoured one side. Most Republicans said they did. Americans were also divided over fact-checking efforts by news outlets and other organisations. Half of US adults said in an early 2019 survey that fact-checking efforts by these organisations dealt fairly with all sides, while 48pc said they tended to favour one side.

Partisans were sharply divided in their views: Around seven-in-ten Democrats (69pc) said fact checkers dealt fairly with all sides, while Republicans (70pc) said they tended to favour one side.

Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2020