Pew: 73% of Americans believe social media platforms censor political speech

A majority of U.S. adults believe that social media companies intentionally censor posts about politics, according to a Pew Research Center survey released today. Roughly three out of four people or 73% of respondents said they believe platforms like Facebook and Twitter practice censorship of political speech. That’s up slightly from 72% when Pew last asked that question in 2018.

A majority of people who identify as Democrat or Republican believe social media platforms censor users, but the belief is more common among Republicans. A belief that social media companies practice censorship jumps to 9 in 10 for Republicans, while only 19% of Democrats believe this to be very likely and 40% believe it to be somewhat likely.

Roughly 7 in 10 of Republicans or Republican-leaning respondents said they believe social media favors liberals over conservatives, also up from 2018 figures.

Antitrust arguments from some Republicans in Congress have focused on creating a perception that social media companies are bias against conservatives. However, top news shared on sites like Facebook leans toward right and far-right leaning news outlets, according to a study released in June. In recent months, multiple news outlets have reported that leadership inside Facebook have avoided moderation of conservative content in fear of fallout from conservative politicians.

Republicans and Democrats also vary widely in their views on content moderation; 71% of Republicans said they disapprove of social media companies labeling content from elected officials as misleading or inaccurate, while 73% believe the opposite. Overall, two-thirds of respondents said a majority of U.S. adults do not trust social media companies to label content as misleading.

Conversations about censorship leapt into headlines this year as Twitter took the unprecedented and controversial step of labeling a tweet from President Trump for glorifying violence. Facebook’s unwillingness to remove the same language from its site led to an employee walkout and fueled direct action like a boycott during Black Lives Matter protests. Earlier this month, Facebook and Twitter removed a Trump video interview on Fox News for spreading false information about COVID-19.

The poll reflects American attitudes at a time when many fear disinformation or misinformation on social media platforms in the months ahead like the kind that plagued the 2016 presidential election. A Senate Intelligence Committee released a final report on 2016 election meddling Tuesday that found Russian president Vladamir Putin personally ordered the attack.

Pew Research Center conducted the survey online June 16-22 with 4,708 adults.

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