A plurality of Washington residents are resistant to moderation of social media content and rate the news they encounter online as at least half false, according to a recent statewide poll.
Results from the WA Poll, conducted among hundreds of Washington adults last month, shows mixed feelings when it comes to what information is shared through social media and how.
Republicans were against moderation more frequently than Democrats, and the poll also showed that most people have moderate or little trust in the accuracy of neighborhood groups like Nextdoor.
Questions about local social media groups, social media content moderation and the falseness of online news and information were asked to 719 registered Washington voters.
As social media has grown to become a significant source of news for Americans, debates around free speech, elections and misinformation on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms has proved controversial, said Jevin West, a professor and cofounder of the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public.
Overall, 48% of respondents said state governments should not be involved with regulating how social media platforms moderate content, while 28% said governments should be involved.
However, 48% of people said social media platforms should restrict content or accounts that share rumors, conspiracy theories or misleading information that could undermine trust in voting in U.S. elections. Thirty-five percent said social media platforms should not restrict content that could undermine trust in elections.
The survey was sponsored by The Seattle Times, KING 5 TV, the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public and Washington State University’s Murrow College of Communication. These questions have a credibility interval of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Republicans were less likely than Democrats to be in favor of moderation in both questions, regardless of whether that was by a state government or by the company itself.
West said this partisan split aligns with the national narrative pushed by each party, with Republicans claiming social media companies have suppressed conservative-leaning content and with Democrats arguing companies need to be doing more to eliminate misinformation.
West said he was surprised to see a high percentage of people against any kind of content moderation on social media given recent debates. Even Elon Musk, he said, a proponent of free speech on social media, has tried to assuage Twitter advertisers that the platform won’t be a “free-for-all hellscape.”
While people support a “free and fair” marketplace of ideas, social media companies hold the power to create unfair advantages for certain types of content, he said.
“Platforms make a ton of money off of conspiracy theories,” West said. “There’s a lot of engagement on conspiracy theories. Alex Jones is just one of many examples.”
A majority of poll respondents said they rate news and information about voting and elections they regularly associate with and share online as at least half false.
In the poll, 40% rated the information as about half false and half true, and an additional 20% described the information as mostly or completely false.
West said it could be concerning that people expect false information in their news environments — though it might be good that people are skeptical and questioning the information they see.
West said he was also surprised to see how people have little trust that information being shared through local social media groups, like Nextdoor or neighborhood Facebook groups, is accurate.
While the poll showed that only 35% get information from a local social media group, 42% of those people said they had moderate trust in the accuracy and trustworthiness of the information shared, and 32% of people said they had little trust. The question was asked to 254 people and had a credibility interval of 7.4 percentage points.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Jevin West’s title. West is a professor and cofounder of the University of Washington Center for an Informed Public.
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