Most Voters Think Social Media Platforms Have A Duty To Thwart Misinformation

Ariel Edwards-Levy
·Senior Reporter and Polling Editor, HuffPost
·4-min read
(Photo: NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo: NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Most voters think social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have a responsibility to prevent users from spreading conspiracies or false information on their sites, a HuffPost/YouGov survey finds.

Voters say, 62% to 26%, that social media outlets have such an obligation. The poll also shows that 72% say social media outlets have a duty to prevent users from harassing others on sites, and 66% say that the outlets have a responsibility to prevent users from posting hate speech or racist content.

Asked about the way social media outlets regulate the content posted to their sites, 47% say the effort is not strict enough, with 23% calling it too strict, 10% saying it’s about right and the rest unsure. In terms of bias, 41% think such outlets generally tilt in favor of liberal views, with just 10% believing they’re generally prejudiced toward conservative views. Another 23% think they’re not biased either way, with about a quarter unsure.

Views on these questions appear largely unchanged since 2018, when 48% of voters said in a HuffPost/YouGov poll that social media outlets were not being strict enough, and 38% that they were biased in favor of liberal views.

Questions about social media’s role in combating disinformation have recurred throughout the 2020 election cycle. Facebook and Twitter have drawn ire from across the ideological spectrum, but President Donald Trump and other Republicans have been especially vocal with claims of anti-conservative bias by the outlets.

Most recently, Twitter changed its rules relating to hacked content after initially blocking links to a dubiously sourced New York Post article about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The nation’s overall political polarization was evident in poll responses. For instance, 81% of Democratic voters, compared to roughly half of Republican voters, think the platforms have a responsibility to stem the flow of conspiracies or false information. Two-thirds of Democratic voters, compared to roughly one-quarter of Republican voters, think the current regulation on such sites is too lax.

Unsurprisingly, perceptions about bias are especially polarized: 72% of GOP voters think social media outlets have a liberal bias, while the majority of Democratic voters think they’re either neutral (39%) or biased toward conservatives (16%).

Other demographic divides emerged. Two-thirds of female voters, compared to 57% of male voters, think social media platforms have a responsibility to prevent the spread of conspiracy theories or false information. Two-thirds of voters over age 65 think platforms have that role, compared to only about half of those under 30.

Social media can be a crucial tool for politicians trying to reach their supporters, as Trump has shown. In the poll, a third of voters say it’s a positive thing for elected officials to be active on social media like Facebook and Twitter, with 29% saying it’s a negative thing and the rest unsure or neutral. Voters under age 45 say, by a 22-percentage-point margin, that it’s more positive than negative, while those 45 and older say, by a 7-point margin, that it’s a negative thing.

Asked where they’d be inclined to go first to learn more about a presidential candidate, 32% of voters say they’d look at news stories written about the person, and 21% that they’d look at the candidate’s website, Facebook, or Twitter; the rest said they’d do neither, or weren’t sure.

The direct reach of social media platforms ― and especially of Twitter ― remains limited. Only about 22% of Americans are on Twitter, and even fewer are frequent users of the site. In the poll, 19% of voters say they follow Trump on social media, with 15% saying they follow Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and 15% saying they follow their own congressional representative.

Just 11% of voters say that they tend to learn about something Trump has tweeted by seeing it directly on Twitter. The majority, 63%, say they’re more likely to instead see or hear a news story discussing the tweets.

Voters say, 45% to 22%, that Trump’s tweets tend to generally hurt his cause more than help it.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Oct. 15-19 among U.S. registered voters, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.