Public Sentiment on Section 230, Antitrust Actions, Election Misinformation

Voters fear social media will aid election chaos; More concern about misinformation than bias; Not familiar with ‘Section 230,’ but want some liability for platforms.

With Election Day approaching and Silicon Valley executives set to testify before Congress, Accountable Tech and GQR are releasing the results of a new poll on the hot-button issues facing tech platforms.

“Across the board, this poll shows that Americans clearly understand the power big tech wields, worry about their lack of accountability, and want stronger reforms to protect our democracy,” said Jesse Lehrich, cofounder of Accountable Tech. “For all the recent hand-waving about alleged bias and censorship by social media platforms, voters are far more worried about inaction to combat election misinformation and deter potential violence. And while they might not be well-versed on antitrust laws or ‘Section 230,’ there is widespread concern about Big Tech’s abuses of power and sweeping legal immunity for actively facilitating harms.”

Key findings:

Voters are very concerned about social media platforms being weaponized to incite violence or cast doubt on election results.

  • More than 8-in-10 voters are concerned about people using social media to incite violence after the election (85%) and to cast doubt on the actual results (81%).

  • Roughly two-thirds of voters are concerned that President Trump will use social media to incite violence (68%) and to cast doubt on the actual results (63%).

  • Despite incessant fear mongering about fraud, voters are far more concerned about votes not being counted (65%) than they are about votes being cast illegally (35%).

Voters overwhelmingly believe social media platforms should do more to protect democracy.

  • 90% of voters said social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are mostly (34%) or partly (56%) responsible for the spread of false information about the election.

  • 73% of voters believe social media platforms need to do more to protect democracy;

    • just 27% say platforms have done enough.

  • 79% of voters support “Rapidly pre-screening content from influential accounts to prevent posts that incite violence or spread false voting information” as Accountable Tech calls for in its new Voter Protection Preclearance proposal.

Voters have very little familiarity with ‘Section 230,’ but overwhelming support exists for social media companies to be held  completely or partly liable for harms facilitated by their platforms.

  • 81% of voters said they were not very (20%) or not at all familiar (61%) with Section 230.

  • Just 21% of voters said social media companies should enjoy sweeping legal protections for things that happen on their platforms

    • Another 21% said social media companies should be held liable for everything posted on their platforms;

    • An overwhelming majority (57%) said they “should have liability in some situations, like if their content promotion or gross negligence helped facilitate criminal activity.”

  • Presented with specific hypotheticals – many of which pertain to recent events or current proposals to reform Section 230 – about 9-in-10 voters said social media companies should be partly or completely liable for harms caused:

Voters expressed widespread and consistent concern about Big Tech’s abuse of power when presented with a number of conclusions from the recent House antitrust report.
  • At least 66% of voters were very or somewhat concerned by each statement.
  • The data offers some initial indications about the importance of drawing direct consumer harms. For example, the exploitation of personal data registered the most concern among all statements tested, while Apple taking a 30% cut on sales from their App Store registered the least.

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