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Do Facebook and Twitter Really Censor Political Views? Most Americans Think So

June 28, 2018, 2:58 PM UTC

Big Brother is watching you—or at least Americans seem to think so when it comes to the technology giants behind social media.

A whopping 72 percent of those polled think it’s likely companies such as Facebook and Twitter actively censor political views that they consider objectionable, according to a Pew Research Center study released Thursday.

Americans simply don’t trust those companies to be impartial when it comes to partisan politics, the study found. The survey assessing the public’s attitude toward the technology industry was conducted between May 29 and June 11 using a national sample of 4,594 adults.

Republicans, more than their Democratic counterparts, displayed concern over perceived political bias. Eighty-five percent of Republicans and those who labeled themselves conservative independents said it’s likely that social media platforms censor political speech. And 64 percent of Republicans think technology companies support the views of liberals over conservatives.

“Republicans tend to be less trusting and more skeptical of public entities and large institutions, whether it concerns technology companies, the news media or higher education,” said Aaron Smith, the author of the study, in an interview. “This is very much in line with attitudes of conservative Americans that we’ve seen over the last couple years.”

Smith also said Republicans may be influenced by right wing commentators who have attacked the technology industry for supposedly “putting their hand on the scale” in favor of liberal policies.

The majority of Democrats, meanwhile, think it’s likely that social media platforms censor political viewpoints, coming in at 62 percent. But only about a quarter of Democrats worry that these companies support the views of conservatives over liberals.

The study reveals Americans’ concerns over the tech industry’s influence on political dialogue. These fears extend to Washington, where Congress continues to probe Facebook over how political content and user data was manipulated during the 2016 election. While Democrats are keenly interested in how that may have played into Russia’s interference in the U.S. electoral process, Republicans are focused on how the social media platform is allegedly anti-conservative.

“There are a great many Americans who I would say are deeply concerned that Facebook and other tech companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of bias and political censorship,” Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, said to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg as he testified before Congress in April.

Half of the American public thinks that technology companies should be more regulated than they are now. And despite Republicans’ overwhelming belief that these companies are involved in censorship of their views, they are less likely than Democrats to advocate for more regulation, the study shows.

Still, most Americans think tech companies benefit them personally—and to a lesser degree—society. Seventy-four percent of Americans said that tech companies have had a positive impact on their lives, while 65 percent feel they’ve had a positive impact on the nation as a whole.

“Despite the potential concerns and frustrations about the technology industry, for the most part, people think the platforms have brought more good into their lives than bad,” Smith said.