April 19, 2018

Many Americans believe that online misinformation is a problem. But what should be done about it?

According to a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday, the majority think the government’s involvement should be limited. From a press release sent to Poynter:

“When asked to choose between the U.S. government taking action to restrict false news online in ways that could also limit Americans’ information freedoms, or protecting those freedoms even if it means false information might be published, nearly six-in-10 Americans (58 percent) say they prefer to protect those freedoms.”

Instead, the survey — which queried 4,734 U.S. adults between Feb. 26 and March 11 — found that respondents want technology companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter to do something about misinformation.

“More U.S. adults (56 percent) favor technology companies taking steps to restrict false information, even if it limits the public’s freedom to access and publish information.”

The resistance to government action against fake news cut across the partisan divide. Pew found that Republicans and Democrats were almost equally likely to prefer keeping individual freedoms.

At the same time, older Americans were more likely to say they wanted anti-misinformation action than younger people, while those with more education fell into the latter camp.

Chart showing that older Americans are more likely than younger to favor restricting false information online

“The findings highlight a tension in the United States between the public’s sense that misinformation online is a problem and the long-held belief in the right to freely access and publish the information one desires,” Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew, said in the release.

The survey comes at a time when governments around the world are increasingly interested in regulating against misinformation. Those actions are diverse in scope, ranging from making online advertising more transparent to banning the publication and sharing of fake news.

For more information about anti-misinformation actions around the world, read Poynter’s running guide.

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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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