Last week, rapper Ye — also known as Kanye West — was suspended from Twitter and Instagram after posting antisemitic comments. The decision to suspend Ye from these sites reignited an ongoing debate over whether and how social media companies should police content on their sites, and what responsibility they have to do so.
Polling by YouGov conducted after Ye's suspension finds that Americans overwhelmingly support social media sites suspending users who post antisemitic content, as well as users who post content that promotes racial division or includes hate speech. Although this is often framed as a partisan issue, we find that members of both major parties believe social media companies have a responsibility to prevent harassment and hate speech on their sites. The one area in which Democrats and Republicans strongly differ is in the regulation of conspiracy theories or false information online: Republicans are more likely than Democrats to oppose restrictions here.
What responsibilities do social media companies have when it comes to deciding what can and cannot be posted to their sites? Nearly three in four Americans (72%) believe the companies have a responsibility to prevent harassment, including large majorities of Democrats (76%) and Republicans (66%). Two-thirds of Americans (67%) think users should be prevented from posting hate speech or racist content; on this too, most Democrats (80%) and Republicans (58%) agree. Most Americans (62%) also think social media sites have a responsibility to prevent the spread of conspiracy theories or false information. Democrats and Republicans are less aligned on this point than on others: Eight in 10 Democrats (79%) think companies should prevent the spread of conspiracy theories or false information, compared to only 49% of Republicans.
When do Americans think social media companies should suspend a user's account? Our latest poll gauged opinions on five scenarios. Majorities of Americans agree that companies should suspend accounts posting content that falls into each of the five categories asked about, including violent content (77% say accounts posting it should be suspended), content that promotes racial division (75%), antisemitic content (74%), hate speech (73%), and disinformation (65%).
While at least eight in 10 Democrats support suspension in each of the five cases polled on, Republicans are somewhat more divided: Roughly two-thirds favor suspending an account that posts each of the following: violent content (69%), content that promotes racial division (67%), antisemitic content (69%), and hate speech (64%). Only half (50%) support suspending an account as a result of sharing disinformation.
One reason why Republicans may be less supportive of online content regulation than Democrats is that they are far more likely to believe that social media companies are biased in how they apply rules related to fact checking and censorship. Only 16% of Republicans say social media sites fairly apply rules in these areas, while 69% say they are biased. Democrats are more divided: 34% say they are fair and 28% say they are biased. Many Democrats (39%) are unsure how fair social media sites are in applying their rules; just 15% of Republicans are unsure.
— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article.
This poll was conducted on October 12 - 14, 2022, among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this poll.
Image: Adobe Stock (SB Arts Media)