Home PublicationsCommentary Survey: Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans Agree the U.S. Government Should Prohibit Political Bias in Online Services

Survey: Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans Agree the U.S. Government Should Prohibit Political Bias in Online Services

by Daniel Castro

Only 29 percent of Americans agree the U.S. government should prohibit political bias in online services such as Facebook and Google, according to a new survey from the Center for Data Innovation. Moreover, public support for a government prohibition of political bias online drops even further when respondents consider the potential impact of such rules. Only 21 percent agree the U.S. government should prohibit political bias online if it would create a worse user experience—and that drops to just 19 percent if it would limit free speech.

Table 1: U.S. Internet users’ opinions on regulating political bias in online services.

There are some differences in these opinions based on political ideology: 41 percent of conservatives agree the U.S. government should regulate political bias in online services, compared to 24 percent of liberals. However, support drops among both groups when respondents are asked whether they would support regulating online services if it would limit free speech: Only 27 percent of conservatives and 16 percent of liberals agree.

Table 2: U.S. Internet users’ opinions on regulating political bias in online services, by political ideology.

Before being asked whether government should prohibit political bias in online services, respondents were asked more generally whether they agree or disagree that the U.S. government “should do more to regulate online services like Facebook and Google.”

Overall, respondents were evenly divided on that proposition: 36.1 percent agreed, and 36.8 percent disagreed. However, there were regional differences, with support lowest in the Midwest. As with the question of prohibiting political bias, general support for regulation dropped significantly when respondents were confronted with the possible consequences of such regulation: Americans oppose such regulation by a margin of 2 to 1.

For example, only 24 percent of respondents agreed the U.S. government “should do more to regulate online services like Facebook and Google even if it would limit free speech,” whereas 51 percent disagreed. Similarly, only 18 percent of respondents agreed the U.S. government “should do more to regulate online services like Facebook and Google even if it would mean people have to start paying to use them,” whereas 58 percent disagreed.

Table 3: U.S. Internet users’ opinions on regulating online services.

Respondents were closely divided overall when asked whether they wanted online services to use more technology to monitor and remove objectionable content. But opinions varied according to political ideology and age: Only about one-third of conservatives (34 percent) agreed online services should use more technology to monitor and remove objectionable content, compared to nearly half of liberals (46 percent). Similarly, just 28 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds agreed, compared to 40 percent of respondents ages 55 and older.

Table 4: U.S. Internet users’ opinions on using technology to monitor and remove objectionable content.

Respondents overall were more accepting of the proposition that online services should use more human moderators to monitor and remove objectionable content, with 41 percent agreeing and 28 percent disagreeing. Support for using human moderators was greater than opposition across the political spectrum; however, it was lowest among conservatives (42 percent) and highest among liberals (56 percent). However, when asked whether they would be willing to pay a monthly fee for human moderators to monitor and remove objectionable content, few supported it. Only 16 percent agreed and 53 percent disagreed. This opposition held true across political ideology, with majorities from all groups opposing.

Table 5: U.S. Internet users’ opinions on using humans to monitor and remove objectionable content.

Survey Questions

1. Agree or disagree? The U.S. government should do more to regulate online services like Facebook and Google

  • Strongly agree: 16.5 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 19.6 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 27.1 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 10.5 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 26.3 percent

2. Agree or disagree? The U.S. government should do more to regulate online services like Facebook and Google even if it would limit free speech.

  • Strongly agree: 9.5 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 14.8 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 25.0 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 14.0 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 36.8 percent

3. Agree or disagree? The U.S. government should do more to regulate online services like Facebook and Google even if it would mean people have to start paying to use them.

  • Strongly agree: 7.9 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 10.0 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 24.7 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 13.7 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 43.7 percent

4. Agree or disagree? The U.S. government should prohibit political bias in online services like Facebook and Google.

  • Strongly agree: 16.7 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 12.0 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 27.6 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 12.1 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 31.6 percent

5. The U.S. government should prohibit political bias in online services like Facebook and Google even if it would limit free speech.

  • Strongly agree: 9.9 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 9.3 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 26.8 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 13.1 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 40.9 percent

6. Agree or disagree? The U.S. government should prohibit political bias in online services like Facebook and Google even if it would create a worse experience.

  • Strongly agree: 10.4 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 10.2 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 31.4 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 12.8 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 35.2 percent

7. Agree or disagree? Online services like Facebook and Google should use more technology, like artificial intelligence, to automatically monitor and remove objectionable content.

  • Strongly agree: 12.8 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 19.7 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 32.2 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 10.0 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 25.2 percent

8. Agree or disagree? Online services like Facebook and Google should use more human moderators to monitor and remove objectionable content.

  • Strongly agree: 17.5 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 23.8 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 31.0 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 8.9 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 18.8 percent

9. Agree or disagree? I would pay a monthly fee so that online services like Facebook and Google could use more human moderators to monitor and remove objectionable content.

  • Strongly agree: 5.3 percent
  • Somewhat agree: 10.8 percent
  • Neither agree nor disagree: 31.3 percent
  • Somewhat disagree: 12.0 percent
  • Strongly disagree: 40.7 percent

10. In general, would you describe your political views as:

  • Very conservative: 6.6 percent
  • Conservative: 17.5 percent
  • Moderate: 28.6 percent
  • Liberal: 15.3 percent
  • Very liberal: 7.3 percent
  • Prefer not to say: 24.8 percent

Age:

  • 6.4% 18-24, 14.5% 25-34, 17.4% 35-44, 22.2% 45-54, 22.4% 55-64, 17.1% 65+ in sample
  • 12.6% 18-24, 19.4% 25-34, 17.5% 35-44, 17.6% 45-54, 16.7% 55-64, 16.2% 65+ in target population

Gender:

  • 55.3% male. 44.7 percent female in sample
  • 48.1% male, 51.9% female in target population

Region:

  • 16.6% Northeast, 33.9% South, 28.5% Midwest, 21.0% West
  • 17.3% Northeast, 37.5% South, 21.3% Midwest, 23.9% West

Detailed Survey Results

Download additional detail about the survey results.

Survey Methodology

The Center for Data Innovation conducted a national online poll of 3,184 U.S. adult Internet users between November 26, 2018 and November 28, 2018. Using Google Surveys, we applied weights to each response to match the breakdowns of age, gender, and region to those demographic breakdowns in the national Internet population as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 Current Population Survey (CPS) Computer and Internet Use Supplement.

Multiple analyses have found Google Surveys to be a useful survey tool. In 2012, the Pew Research Center compared the results for 43 questions it asked through telephone surveys and Google Surveys, finding that the median difference between the two methods’ results was three percentage points. Moreover, Google Surveys accurately predicted the 2012 presidential election. Lastly, a 2016 analysis, published in the peer-reviewed journal Political Analysis by Rice University political scientists, replicated four canonical social science experiments with Google Surveys and concluded that Google Surveys “is likely to be a useful platform for survey experimenters doing rigorous social scientific work.”

Google Surveys donated the use of its platform for this research but played no role in the findings or in developing the questions. To learn more about Google Surveys’ methodology and accuracy, please see the Google Surveys Whitepaper and a study comparing Google Surveys to other Internet surveys.

About the Center for Data Innovation

The Center for Data Innovation conducts high-quality, independent research and educational activities on the impact of the increased use of information on the economy and society. In addition, the Center for Data Innovation formulates and promotes pragmatic public policies designed to enable data-driven innovation in the public and private sector, create new economic opportunities, and improve quality of life. The Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research institute affiliated with the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

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