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Americans don't trust content decisions made by social media giants, study says

But they trust the government even less, says a new report from Gallup and the Knight Foundation.

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"People like freedom online but they are genuinely worried about harm -- and they don't know whom they can trust to make content decisions," says the Knight Foundation.

Taylor Martin/CNET

Most Americans don't trust social media companies to police the content on their platforms, according to a poll published Tuesday from Gallup and the Knight Foundation. The poll found that 80% of Americans don't trust big tech companies to make the right decisions about what content appears on their sites and what should be removed. 

People, especially conservatives, trust the government even less than social media companies to make these decisions, according to the report. The poll explored several topics around free speech online and the threat of misinformation.

"We have a clash of values online," said Sam Gill, senior vice president and chief program officer at the Knight Foundation, in a release. "People like freedom online but they are genuinely worried about harm -- and they don't know whom they can trust to make content decisions."

Most Americans also support, in principle, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects Facebook, Twitter and other online companies from liability for content posted by their users. Although President Donald Trump and some in Congress are pushing to reform the law, the poll found almost two-thirds of Americans support keeping the existing regulation. People and groups who favor the rule say Section 230 protects free speech and allows for an open marketplace of ideas.

Trump signed an executive order late last month that aims to end legal protections for social media companies like Facebook and Twitter from liability for content posted on their sites. 

"When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power," the executive order says. "They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators."

The executive order followed Twitter's decision to label two of Trump's tweets about mail-in ballots as "potentially misleading information." For some time Trump has also, without evidence, been accusing social networks of censoring the voices of conservative users. 

Results of the poll are based on two groups of self-administered online surveys with a random sample of US adults, aged 18 and older. The first group of surveys took place in December 2019 and included 1,628 participants. The second round was conducted in March and included 1,449 participants. 

You can the full study here.

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