Not only do social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter distort the mix of news that reaches their users, but their actions result in a worse mix, according to 55 percent of Americans responding to a Pew Research poll published this week. Just 15 percent believe the platforms’ meddling results in a better mix.
Republicans are even more emphatic – three quarters say social media has too much control, and two thirds disapprove of the mix of news the platforms generate. However, 53 percent of Democrats agree Facebook and Twitter’s control is excessive, and 49 percent find the news mix distasteful.
More than half of respondents highlight one-sided news (53 percent) and inaccurate news (51 percent) as “very big problems” in social media’s influence on news. Censorship is a major problem for 35 percent – as much as “uncivil discussions about the news” – while users being banned is a major concern for just 24 percent. Of the 82 percent of Americans who believe social media platforms treat some news outlets differently than others, most (88 percent) see producing clickbait (“attention-grabbing articles,” in Pew’s words) as a factor in currying favor with online platforms. Nearly as many (84 percent) see social media popularity as a factor, while 79 percent view an outlet’s political stance as a deciding factor. Only 34 percent think an outlet’s “high reporting standards” are favored by social media platforms, and just 18 percent view political neutrality as important to platforms.
The majority of respondents from across the political spectrum agreed that the posts they saw on social media were skewed toward one end or the other – 64 percent of Republicans said the news they saw was “liberal” or “very liberal,” and 37 percent of Democrats agreed. Just nine percent of Republicans, and 18 percent of Democrats, said the news they saw was “conservative” or “very conservative.”