Instagram, Messenger and Facebook icons are displayed on a phone screen in this illustration. (Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
(Photo illustration by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Executives from three major U.S. technology companies – Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Google’s parent company Alphabet – are slated to testify virtually before the Senate Commerce Committee this week. They will discuss Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which prevents websites from being held liable for content created by their users. Members of Congress in both parties have questioned the scope of the 1996 law – and whether it should continue to exempt big tech companies from liability – even as others have lauded the measure for protecting free speech online.

The Senate hearing comes amid broader government scrutiny of U.S. tech companies. The Justice Department has filed a major antitrust lawsuit against Google, while President Donald Trump has criticized social media platforms for labeling some of his posts as inaccurate or misleading. Some prominent Democrats, meanwhile, have called to break up big tech companies.  

Pew Research Center has studied Americans’ attitudes toward tech companies for years. Here are eight takeaways from our recent research.

About half of Americans (47%) say major tech companies should be regulated by the government more than they are now. Another 39% say these companies should be regulated the same as they are now, while just 11% say these firms should be regulated less, according to a Center survey conducted in June 2020. Though the public’s overall views have remained largely unchanged since the question was last asked in May and June of 2018, there have been shifts by party and ideology. For instance, similar shares of Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP (48%) and Democrats and their leaners (46%) now agree that major technology companies should face more regulation by the government, a change caused in part by rising support among conservative Republicans.

Roughly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they are not too or not at all confident in technology companies to prevent misuse of their platforms to influence the 2020 presidential election, according to a survey conducted in July and August. The share with little or no confidence has increased since October 2018, shortly before that year’s midterm elections, when 66% said this. At the same time, three-quarters of Americans say technology companies have a responsibility to prevent misuse of their platforms to influence the election.

A majority of U.S. adults (64%) say social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today, with Republicans being more likely than Democrats to express that view, according to a July 2020 survey. The Americans who see a negative effect from social media point to factors including misinformation and the hate and harassment they see on these platforms.

Just one-in-ten adults say social media have a mostly positive effect on the way things are going in the country today. These Americans mention that these sites help people stay informed and aware, and that they allow for communication, connection and community-building.

A quarter of Americans say social media have neither a positive nor negative effect.

Around seven-in-ten U.S. adults (72%) say social media companies have too much power and influence in politics today, according to the June survey. Much smaller shares say these companies have about the right amount of (21%) or not enough (6%) political power and influence.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say these companies have too much power and influence in politics today, though majorities in both party coalitions express this view (82% vs. 63%).

About three-in-four Americans (73%) say it’s likely that social media sites intentionally censor political viewpoints they find objectionable, according to the June survey. Public perceptions have not changed much since the question was last asked in May and June of 2018. And while majorities in both parties believe censorship is likely occurring, Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say this (90% vs. 59%).

About two-thirds of Americans (66%) say they have not too much or no confidence in social media companies to be able to determine which posts on their platforms should be labeled as inaccurate or misleading, according to the June survey. Only about three-in-ten Americans (31%) say they have a great deal or a fair amount of confidence in social media companies to make this determination. Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to lack confidence in these companies to determine which content to label as inaccurate or misleading (84% vs. 52%).

A little over half of Americans (54%) think social media companies should not allow any political ads on their platform, according to a September survey. Around half as many (26%) think social media companies should allow all political ads on their platforms, while about one-in-five Americans say these companies should only allow only some ads.

Around three-quarters of Americans (77%) say it is not very or not at all acceptable for social media companies to leverage users’ data to show them ads from political campaigns. A much smaller share of adults (22%) say this practice is very or somewhat acceptable, according to the September survey. Partisans agree about the unacceptability of this practice, with 78% of Republicans and 76% of Democrats saying it is not very or not at all acceptable.

Brooke Auxier  is a research associate focusing on internet and technology research at Pew Research Center.