Fast facts about American’s views about social media as Facebook faces legal challenge
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The Federal Trade Commission and nearly every state sued Facebook on Wednesday, alleging that the firm’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp resulted in unfair business practices and calling for these companies to be broken up. The action comes seven weeks after the FTC and a smaller group of states sued Google on antitrust grounds and months after Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg – along with the heads of Apple, Amazon and Google – appeared before Congress about their firms’ role in the marketplace. The new legal challenges could have a defining impact on major technology companies as a whole, with lawmakers on both sides advocating for stronger oversight of the industry.

Here are some key findings about Americans’ attitudes toward the tech industry – and social media in particular – based on Pew Research Center surveys.

  • Americans favor more, not less, regulation of major technology companies, according to a Center survey conducted in June. Some 47% of U.S. adults think the government should be regulating major technology companies more than it is now, while just 11% think these companies should be regulated less. About four-in-ten (39%) believe government regulation should stay at its current level.
  • Americans’ knowledge of the business side of social media companies is relatively low, with many being unable to correctly identify which digital platforms are under the Facebook umbrella. Just 29% of Americans correctly named WhatsApp and Instagram as two companies owned by Facebook in a June 2019 survey that quizzed Americans about their digital knowledge. (In fall 2019, Facebook rebranded these products to help clarify it was the owner.)
  • Facebook remains one of the most widely used social media sites among adults in the U.S. In an early 2019 survey, roughly seven-in-ten adults (69%) said they ever used the platform. YouTube is the only other site that matches Facebook’s reach: 73% of adults report ever using the video sharing site. But certain online platforms, most notably Facebook-owned Instagram, have an especially strong following among adults under the age of 30. Instagram is one of the few sites measured in the survey that has seen steady growth over the past several years. As of the 2019 survey, Facebook’s WhatsApp was also used by 20% of American adults.
  • Overall, 72% of U.S. adults say social media companies have too much power and influence in politics today, according to a June 2020 survey. Majorities of both Republicans and Democrats – including independents who lean to either party – believe social media companies wield too much power and influence, but Republicans are more likely than Democrats to express this view (82% vs. 63%).
  • About two-thirds of Americans (64%) say social media have a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today, according to a survey fielded this July. Just one-in-ten Americans say social media sites have a mostly positive effect on the way things are going, and one-quarter say these platforms have a neither positive nor negative effect.
Monica Anderson  is an associate director of research at Pew Research Center.