As tech giants like Facebook and Google have come under increasing fire from elected officials, a new poll shows the majority of American voters think that the social media giants have a systematic bias against conservative views.
In a new Hill.TV American Barometer survey, 58 percent of registered voters think that social networks are unfair to conservatives, while 42 percent said they believed conservatives were more likely to promote false stories that deserved removal from public circulation.
Unsurprisingly, the poll was heavily divided along party lines.
Respondents who self-identified as Republicans were overwhelmingly likely, 83 percent to 17 percent, to see tech companies as being biased against conservatives. While a majority of Democrats, 62 percent, said that conservative commentators were more likely to spread misinformation, while only 38 percent said they saw social networking sites as being biased against conservatives. A majority of independents, 58 percent saw unfairness while 42 percent said conservatives were more likely to propagate falsehoods.
Republican political figures and activists have increasingly targeted large tech firms for bias as a number of high-profile right-wing commentators have been banned from social media sites. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a staunch advocate for President Trump, has been one of the most vocal critics.
The veteran radio host turned up in Washington on Tuesday to lodge complaints against Google CEO Sundar Pichai after the internet giant banned him from YouTube.
“You have to look at the fact that social media has been weaponized,” Republican strategist Ed Goeas said Thursday on “What America’s Thinking.” “And I think they’re trying to clean that up a little bit, so I don’t know that it’s necessarily targeted at conservative or liberal as much as how do we kind of lay down the arms and actually have it serve as a communication need.”
Conservative complaints against alleged censorship efforts are an echo of their long-standing complaints against large media organizations, which they have claimed are biased in favor of liberal interests. GOP elected officials have thus far responded in the same way by lodging numerous criticisms but refusing to take regulatory or legislative action.
On Monday, Wired magazine reported that Google has worked closely with Republican officials and activists to promote its interests by appealing to conservative skepticism toward government intervention in the economy.
In August, President Trump threatened Google at a White House event, saying that it was “really taking advantage of a lot of people” by allegedly manipulating search results to be more negative about him.
“I think that Google and Twitter and Facebook, they are really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful. It is not fair to large portions of the population,” Trump said.
Pichai and other tech executives have strongly denied their companies deliberately discriminate against conservatives but privately many have expressed concern that efforts to eliminate fake news and defamatory postings often inadvertently ensnare more legitimate conservative opinion.
In February, Wired reported that Facebook changed its policies to become more permissive toward dubious websites under pressure from Republican elected officials. The report said the changes made it easier for Russian social media trolls to spread disinformation during the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
A 2017 Harvard University study of millions of social media posts found that several of the most popular websites among conservatives during the last presidential election frequently posted stories that were fabricated or poorly fact-checked.
In response to alleged left-wing censorship, several right-leaning entrepreneurs have started up their own social networks. Thus far, however, they have failed to develop large audiences. Others, such as the Twitter alternative Gab, have been overwhelmed with neo-nazis and self-described fascists.
Progressive groups have disputed conservative claims of social media favoritism, arguing instead that far-right outlets receive greater distribution on Facebook and elsewhere.
The American Barometer poll, which was conducted Dec. 7-8 by HarrisX for Hill.TV, found that members of Generation Z, people born in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, were the only age group that believed social media companies were not biased against conservatives.
Baby Boomer respondents were the most likely to say that Republicans were being unfairly targeted by tech companies. Sixty-two percent of the older age group said they perceived anti-conservative bias while only 48 percent of Generation Z respondents agreed.
The survey, which was conducted among a statistically representative of online users, has a sampling margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
— Matthew Sheffield