Amid rising concerns over misinformation online – including surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, especially vaccines – Americans are now a bit more open to the idea of the U.S. government taking steps to restrict false information online. And a majority of the public continues to favor technology companies taking such action, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Roughly half of U.S. adults (48%) now say the government should take steps to restrict false information, even if it means losing some freedom to access and publish content, according to the survey of 11,178 adults conducted July 26-Aug. 8, 2021. That is up from 39% in 2018. At the same time, the share of adults who say freedom of information should be protected – even if it means some misinformation is published online – has decreased from 58% to 50%.
When it comes to whether technology companies should take steps to address misinformation online, more are in agreement. A majority of adults (59%) continue to say technology companies should take steps to restrict misinformation online, even if it puts some restrictions on Americans’ ability to access and publish content. Around four-in-ten (39%) take the opposite view that protecting freedom of information should take precedence, even if it means false claims can spread. The balance of opinion on this question has changed little since 2018.
To examine Americans’ attitudes toward restricting false information online, Pew Research Center surveyed 11,178 U.S. adults from July 26 to Aug. 8, 2021. Everyone who completed the survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology. Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.
This is the latest report in Pew Research Center’s ongoing investigation of the state of news, information and journalism in the digital age, a research program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, with generous support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
Partisan divisions on the role of government in addressing online misinformation have emerged since 2018. Three years ago, around six-in-ten in each partisan coalition – 60% of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents and 57% of Democrats and Democratic leaners – agreed that freedom of information should be prioritized over the government taking steps to restrict false information online. Today, 70% of Republicans say those freedoms should be protected, even it if means some false information is published. Nearly as many Democrats (65%) instead say the government should take steps to restrict false information, even if it means limiting freedom of information.
Partisan views on whether technology companies should take such steps have also grown further apart. Roughly three-quarters of Democrats (76%) now say tech companies should take steps to restrict false information online, even at the risk of limiting information freedoms. A majority of Republicans (61%) express the opposite view – that those freedoms should be protected, even if it means false information can be published online. In 2018, the parties were closer together on this question, though most Democrats still supported action by tech firms.
Some demographic differences that existed on these questions in 2018 have now largely disappeared. Three years ago, older Americans and those with less education were more likely than younger and more educated adults, respectively, to say the U.S. government should take steps to restrict false information online, even if means limiting some freedoms. Now, Americans across nearly all age groups are fairly evenly divided between the two views. Similar changes have occurred when it comes to Americans’ educational background.
Women still tend to be more open than men to the idea of both the government and tech companies taking action to restrict false information online, though both groups have become a bit more supportive of the government taking such steps.