August 15, 2018

Journalists regularly weigh in on what platforms like Facebook and Google are and aren’t doing to stop the spread of viral misinformation. But what do Americans at large think?

Nothing good, according to a new survey published by Gallup and the Knight Foundation on Wednesday.

The report, based on web surveys from a random sample of 1,203 U.S. adults, found that 85 percent of Americans don’t think the platforms are doing enough to stop the spread of fake news. Additionally, 88 percent want tech companies to be transparent about how they surface content, while 79 percent think those companies should be regulated like other media organizations — a common trope among journalists.

That’s despite the fact that the majority of people surveyed (54 percent) said social media platforms help keep them informed and that they’re concerned about those companies making editorial judgments.

“Americans give credit to major internet companies like Google and Facebook for bringing people together and helping them become better-informed,” the report reads, “… but Americans are not entirely comfortable with the companies providing curated content in general, and they appear even less comfortable with the companies taking on a news editorial role.”

According to the survey, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates, Ford and Open Society foundations in addition to Knight, the majority of Americans are opposed to social platforms excluding content that’s offensive or biased toward one group. But when it comes to limiting the spread of misinformation, respondents seemed less concerned about the ability of tech platforms to limit what people see in their timelines.

The report found that 92 percent of Democrats, 82 percent of Independents and 73 percent of Republicans said misinformation should be removed from internet platforms. None of the major tech companies — including Facebook and Google — have a policy that allows for the removal of information simply because it’s false.

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“Majorities say they oppose internet companies excluding content from their sites and apps that they think contains offensive content, that they believe is biased toward one group or another or that its users have raised concerns about or complained about,” the report reads. “U.S. adults do, however, widely favor companies excluding suspected misinformation from their web platforms, with 80 percent holding this view.”

Knight report

And most respondents said that internet companies themselves have an obligation to show people accurate content — not the government or users.

Knight report

Those findings come after weeks of hand-wringing among media and tech journalists over the steps that tech platforms do or don’t take to remove accounts that repeatedly spread misinformation, particularly regarding conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. And the report follows several other surveys that measure what Americans think about fake news.

Two June reports from Knight and Gallup found that Americans believe two-thirds of the news they see on social media is misinformation. The Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans have a hard time distinguishing factual news from opinions — and another from Knight and Gallup concluded that adding reliability ratings from journalists to news stories could improve that.

Interested in more research on misinformation and fact-checking? Check out Poynter’s ongoing database of the latest work.

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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