David Kemp and Emily Ekins 81% of Republicans think Facebook and Twitter’s Trump ban violated the First Amendment, strong liberals are three times more likely than conservatives to report users on social media, 58% of Americans support a First Amendment content moderation standard A new Cato Institute/YouGov national survey of 2,000 Americans finds that three-fourths ...
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David Kemp and Emily Ekins
81% of Republicans think Facebook and Twitter’s Trump ban violated the First Amendment, strong liberals are three times more likely than conservatives to report users on social media, 58% of Americans support a First Amendment content moderation standard
A new Cato Institute/YouGov national survey of 2,000 Americans finds that three-fourths of Americans don’t trust social media companies to make fair content moderation decisions. The survey, conducted in collaboration with YouGov, finds that nearly two-thirds (60%) would prefer social media companies provide users with greater choice and control over the content they see in their newsfeeds rather than do more to reduce all users’ exposure to offensive content or misinformation (40%). It also finds that a majority (63%) believe social media companies have too much influence over the outcome of national elections.
81% of Republicans Think Facebook and Twitter’s Trump Ban Violated the First Amendment
Republicans (81%) believe that Facebook and Twitter violated the First Amendment when they elected to ban Trump, while Democrats (89%) say that the First Amendment was not violated. While Facebook and Twitter are private platforms and their decision to ban Trump did not violate the First Amendment, Republicans’ perception that they did highlights their strong emotional response to the banning.
Part of this emotional response may be explained by Republicans’ concerns that if Trump can be banned, then they themselves are also more likely to have their account suspended by these companies. Republicans (38%) are nearly four times more likely than Democrats (10%) to say that Trump’s suspension makes them feel like their social media accounts are more likely to be suspended. A quarter (25%) of independents agree.
On the other hand, most Americans (55%) agree with the decisions made by Facebook and Twitter to ban former president Donald Trump from their platforms following the January 6, 2021, storming of the Capitol. But there is a large partisan split: 93% of Democrats and 54% of independents agree with the decision, whereas 85% of Republicans disagree.
Liberals Are Much More Likely than Conservatives to Report Users on Social Media
Strong liberals are nearly three times more likely than strong conservatives to say that they have reported another user to a social media company for sharing offensive content or false information. This behavior is highly tied to political ideology. Among social media users, 65% of strong liberals, 44% of moderate liberals, 32% of moderates, 21% of moderate conservatives, and 24% of strong conservatives have done this.
This strong ideological trend continues even if the results are constrained among those who use social media several times a day. Among very frequent social media users: strong liberals (72%) are about 2.5 times more likely than strong conservatives (30%) to have reported another person because of what they posted. Similarly, when it comes to blocking people, strong liberals (83%) are 30 points more likely than strong conservatives (53%) to have done this.
58% of Americans Support a First Amendment Content Moderation Standard
A majority of Americans (58%) say that social media sites should use the First Amendment as the standard for their content moderation decisions. Partisans disagree, with 82% of Republicans and 60% of independents supporting the use of the First Amendment and 64% of Democrats saying companies should set their own rules.
However, in practice, Americans don’t support leaving up certain kinds of posts that might be offensive or provide false information, even if those posts contain speech protected by the First Amendment. For instance, when asked about hypothetical posts, strong majorities want social media companies to remove or reduce from circulation posts that that advocate people drink bleach to treat Covid-19 (71%), use racial slurs (70%), or deny the Holocaust occurred (66%).
54% of Americans Are More Worried About Censoring the Truth than Spreading Misinformation
A majority (54%) of Americans are more concerned that social media companies will censor truthful or legitimate debate, while 46% are more concerned that social media companies won’t do enough to stop the spread of false or misleading information. These data suggest that Americans would rather have social media companies allow misinformation to spread than to have them accidentally restrict truthful information by a margin of 54% to 46%.
A majority of Democrats (69%) would rather curb the spread of misinformation, even if that means at times censoring the truth. Conversely, majorities of independents (60%) and Republicans (78%) would rather allow some misinformation to spread rather than to censor truthful information and legitimate debate.
64% Favor Fact-Checking Posts, but 63% Say Facebook’s Fact-Checkers Are Biased
Nearly two-thirds (64%) support social media companies like Facebook fact-checking information that their users post, while 36% oppose. However, nearly the same share, 63%, say Facebook’s fact-checkers allow their own political opinions to influence their analysis. Republicans (82%) are nearly twice as likely as Democrats (43%) to perceive bias. An overwhelming majority (85%) say that fact-checkers shouldn’t determine their own appeals. Instead, most think another fact-checker should check their work.
Most Favor Social Media Removing Misinformation, but Americans Can’t Agree What Misinformation Is
A majority (63%) of Americans say social media companies should remove false or misleading information from their sites. However, Americans can’t agree what information is false. For instance, Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to say the following is “definitely” false information:
- Democrats changed the vote tallies in 2020 to help Joe Biden win (76% vs. 12%)
- masks don’t work (80% vs. 16%)
- climate change isn’t happening (77% vs. 14%)
- COVID-19 vaccines are dangerous (63% vs. 12%)
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the following is “definitely” false information:
- Russia changed the vote tallies in 2016 to help Donald Trump win (53% vs. 20%)
- the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change (64% vs. 31%)
- Women are paid 70 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men (18% vs. 6%)
58% Say Social Media Companies Are Better than Government at Content Moderation
Although many Americans have concerns about how social media companies handle content moderation, a majority (58%) feel these companies are better suited to determine and enforce rules than government regulators.
Strong liberals stand out, with 54% who think that government regulators would be better at determining what users are allowed to say or share. In contrast, moderate liberals (55%) and conservatives (55%) think that companies and their employees are better suited for this task.
The Cato Institute 2021 Speech and Social Media Survey was designed and conducted by the Cato Institute in collaboration with YouGov. YouGov collected responses online August 11–16, 2021, from a national sample of 2,000 Americans who were 18 years of age and older. Restrictions were put in place to ensure that only the people selected and contacted by YouGov were allowed to participate. The margin of error for the survey is +/− 2.5 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence.
The topline questionnaire, full methodology, and report of the survey findings can be found here