Survey: Public Wants Online Freedom AND Content Regulation

It seems like the public is just as conflicted as policymakers on how and whether to regulate online content. 

The majority or respondents to a new poll say they want some misleading information removed from social media, either by the companies or government or some independent entity. 

That is according to a new Gallup/Knight Foundation poll, “Free Expression, Harmful Speech, and Censorship in a Digital World,” conducted amidst the debate over social media's Sec. 230 protection from civil liability for most content on their sites, and the President's feud with Twitter over its labeling of his tweets. 

But the poll found something of a disconnect between the desire to address the "info-demic" of unverified or false information and the desire for free expression online, which basically sums up the current debate. 

About two thirds (65%) said they favor allowing people to use social media to express their views, but 85% said they favor the removal of false or misleading health information, for example, during the pandemic, and 81% favor removing intentionally misleading information on elections and politics. 

The rub, of course, is who, or what in the event of an algorithm, decides whether something is intentionally misleading. 

The study found that 80% said they don't trust "Big Tech" to make "the right decisions" about what content should or shouldn't be on their sites, but they trust the government even less to make the right calls, particularly conservatives. 

A majority (66%) said they support keeping the Sec. 230 liability shield, while 81% said they favored the creation of independent oversight boards to oversee content policy on social media. 

The online survey, actually two surveys combined, were conducted Dec. 3 and 15, 2019, among 1,628 Gallup Panel members and between March 17 and 30, 2020 among 1,449 Gallup Panel members. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points at 95% confidence.  

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.