Social Media Should Censor Itself, Without Government Intervention, Most Americans Say
New polling from the firm Ipsos finds that most Americans worry about bad behavior on social media, and want companies to act.
Ian SherrFormer Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. At CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Social media is getting under our skin, and new polling data shows that Americans want tech companies to fix it.
Surveys released by polling firm Ipsos on Monday show that a majority of Americans support content moderation on social networks, including putting warning labels on misinformation, deleting incitements to violence and suspending or banning offending accounts. Only 19% of Americans believe tech companies should do nothing and allow incitements to violence to be posted. Even fewer people, just 17%, believe social media companies should do nothing and allow posts containing misinformation or bullying.
"Basically, public opinion is giving license to tech companies to curate themselves," said Cliff Young, president of US Public Affairs at Ipsos. He added that another Ipsos poll found that Americans don't support government intervention with social media content. "What we see across the board is support for self-action" by tech companies, he said.
The Ipsos data, based on about 200 questions asked in eight polls over the past year and made available to the wider public Monday, offers an unusually clear indication of what Americans want social media companies to do about bad behavior on their platforms.
For much of the last decade, politicians, tech executives and people using the internet have argued about how much social media companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google's YouTube and TikTok should moderate their platforms. Companies that track hate groups say the companies aren't aggressively pulling down enough posts, while many politicians, including former President Donald Trump, say tech companies have gone too far.
Young, at Ipsos, said the Capitol riots were a key moment when many Americans began to reexamine social media's role in their lives.
Indeed, older polls from the Pew Research Center showed that before the 2020 election and 2021 riot, Americans were much more split about how to treat tech. A 2019 study by Pew found that 77% of Democrats thought social media companies "have a responsibility to remove offensive content from their platforms." By comparison, about 52% of Republicans had the same view back then.
Fast-forward to 2021, when Ipsos polling performed in the months after the Capitol riots indicated that more Americans in both parties want tech companies to curb bad behavior online. "This was an inflection point for decision makers wanting to better understand the relationship between society and tech," Young said.
Nuanced but similar views
Tech companies are among the most profitable, most valuable and most powerful businesses in the world. They're also front of mind for many Americans, who rate disinformation, conspiracy theories, social media-driven radicalization and hacking above other big issues, like racism and the climate crisis. More than 79% of respondents to one Ipsos poll, in September, said they were concerned with at least one of those tech issues, roughly tying with "crime and public safety" and "the economy and jobs."
Ipsos data also found that Republicans, Democrats and independents largely agreed on the importance of these issues, with hacking, malware and data breaches scoring among the top three concerns from all three groups.
Additionally, Ipsos surveys found that Americans largely understand the difference between social media companies and other tech giants, with 88% saying search engines and the ability to find things on the internet improved their lives, while only 45% felt the same about social media. When discussing specific companies, respondents saying they're Republican or independent overall had a negative view of Facebook and Twitter, while less than 15% of Democrats viewed either company favorably. Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple were all viewed more favorably, Ipsos data showed.