Many Americans are concerned with stories on social media that provide only one side of an issue or are inaccurate, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center.
Half of the 5,107 adults interviewed for the study considered one-sided news and inaccurate news to be “very big problems,” while one third of indicated censorship of the news and “uncivil discussions about the news” to be of significant concern.
Elisa Shearer, a Pew research associate and lead author of the study, said the question on the problems of news delivered through social media was the most interesting result. In May, the Trump administration published an online form encouraging people to report online censorship on social media sites. The form, which has since closed, asked for detailed examples of what they considered to be online censorship, such as having political content removed or having their accounts suspended.
“No matter your views, if you suspect political bias has caused you to be censored or silenced online, we want to hear about it,” a tweet sent from the White House Twitter account read.
Thousands filled out the form, according to the White House.
In August, a proposed executive order, first reported by Politico, titled, “Protecting Americans from Online Censorship,” asked the Federal Communication Commission to develop new regulations for social media companies when removing user content. (CNN reports the order is still in its draft phase.) The Pew study also found that 88% of respondents considered the harassment of journalists with regard to news on social media to be a problem, with 27% indicating it is a “very big problem.”
The Pew study also found that 88% of respondents considered the harassment of journalists with regard to news on social media to be a problem.
In September, the Committee to Protect Journalists announced guidelines for reporters to protect against digital harassment. The committee’s advocacy director, Courtney Radsch, said in an interview with AP that “there is a growing awareness that online harassment is an endemic part of being a journalist.”
The National Press Freedom Tracker reported 29 physical attacks against journalists as of Oct. 2, 2019.
The Pew study did not ask about specific concerns, such as Facebook’s recent string of privacy scandals, one of the latest involving the social media giant giving technological companies greater access to private user information without the user being aware. The center’s decision to not gather responses on such events stemmed from its goal to “get people’s broad sentiments” on news from social media, Shearer said.
Pew chose to study this topic after paying close attention to the national conversation and the stories dominating news cycles. Shearer said that the center takes notice when “things start to bubble up in the public consciousness.”
Although the center has tracked online news use among Americans since the 1990s, it has never looked “under the hood” of how Americans truly feel about social media companies as news deliverers, said Shearer, who has worked for Pew for five years.
OTHER KEY FINDINGS
- Republicans tend to be more negative than Democrats, with 75% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying social media companies have too much control over the mix of news that people see compared with 53% for Democrats or Democratic leaning voters.
- A total of 82% of respondents said social media sites treat some news organizations differently than others, about five times more than those who say that all news organizations are treated the same.
- Republicans and Republican leaners are more likely to see censorship of the news as a very big problem on social media (43%) than Democrats and Democratic leaners (30%).
- Getting news from social media sites is an increasingly common experience, with 55% of adults reporting that they get news from social media often or sometimes get news from such a site. That was up from 47% in 2018. Facebook is the most commonly used site, according to the study. YouTube is the second most popular site.