Poll: Most Americans want legislation governing social media policies

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A majority of Americans believe that lawmakers should pass legislation governing how social media companies police content posted on their platforms, according to a Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey released exclusively to The Hill. 

Some 54 percent of respondents want elected officials to spell out in the law how and when to restrict or remove content from social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, as well as what kind of content is deemed appropriate.

By contrast, a large minority of respondents  46 percent  are in favor of allowing those companies to set their own rules for determining the kind of content that is suitable for their platforms.

The debate over social media giants and the power they hold over online speech has come into sharper focus in recent days after companies like Facebook and Twitter banned President Trump from their platforms for at least the foreseeable future. 

Those suspensions were put in place amid fears that the president could use the platforms to incite violence or insurrection after a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. During the riot, Trump seemed to condone the chaos, posting what to many appeared to be messages of encouragement on Twitter. 

“These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long,” Trump wrote in one tweet as rioters tore through the Capitol.

In another response to the violence at the Capitol, Amazon booted the pro-Trump social network Parler from its web hosting service, effectively shutting down the platform and sparking backlash from conservatives, who accused the tech giant of stifling free speech.

While the recent uproar over the social media bans has largely come from conservatives, a majority of Americans say that social media giants may hold too much sway over the country’s political discourse. 

Sixty-five percent of respondents including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats said that social media platforms have too much influence over politics and society in the U.S., while only 9 percent said they have too little sway. About 26 percent said that the influence those platforms wield is “about the right amount.”

When it comes to the amount of power social media companies hold over free speech in the U.S., about 59 percent say it’s too much. That includes more than two-thirds of Republican respondents and about half of Democratic respondents, according to the Harvard CAPS/Harris poll. 

“The ratings of the major social media companies — Facebook and especially Twitter — are quite low and a majority now support some kind of regulation to ensure a level playing field on the content posted on platforms,” Mark Penn, the director of Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll, said.

Still, there’s a sense among many Republicans that social media companies are biased in favor of Democrats. Sixty-one percent of GOP voters surveyed said they believe platforms like Twitter and Facebook tend to more often oppose Republicans and Republican perspectives, while even more 66 percent said that those companies favor Democrats.

About half of Democrats, meanwhile, see social media companies as unbiased in the way they operate, according to the Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll survey.

The Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey of 2,006 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 12 to 14. It is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and The Harris Poll.

Full poll results will be posted online later this week. The survey is an online sample drawn from the Harris Panel and weighted to reflect known demographics. As a representative online sample, it does not report a probability confidence interval.

Tags Amazon Donald Trump Facebook Mark Penn Parler Polling Regulation Twitter

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