Picture a world where social media platforms cater to the preferences of their users. A recent YouGov poll asked Americans about their ideal platform, including how positively or negatively they view various settings and options. The poll tells us that in this world where users' aggregated preferences decide how social media works, content flows chronologically, and users can explore new content alongside personalized recommendations. Text and images edge out audio and video, while privacy is paramount. Identity verification and human moderation help ensure a safe environment, and the platforms sustain themselves through advertising and e-commerce rather than data sales or subscriptions.
The survey, conducted March 6 - 9, asked 1,000 U.S. adult citizens to rate various options for nine components of social media platforms, on a scale from "very good" to "very bad." Here is what Americans are most likely to want in social media:
- Platforms present content chronologically, displaying posts in the order they were published, with the newest posts appearing first.
- Platforms Verify users' identity, with users given the option to use their real name or a pseudonym.
- Human moderators verify the accounts of notable people, organizations, and businesses that meet certain criteria.
- User information either is always private (only visible to approved users) or is private by default (with the option to make it public).
- Human moderators identify and remove content that violates a platform's terms of service. Users also have the option to report such content for removal.
- For revenue, companies rely on advertising and e-commerce rather than subscriptions and sales of user data to other parties.
- Users have a dedicated space to explore new content and are being provided with personalized recommendations, trending content, and the ability to follow topics via hashtags.
- Users have the option to comment on, react to, and share content, as well as the capabilities to join groups and send private messages to other users.
Presentation of content
While most social media platforms order content algorithmically by default, there recently have been pushes by lawmakers and activists to require companies to offer users the option to view posts chronologically — that is, in the order they were published. Which system do Americans prefer? Our polling finds that Americans prefer chronological feeds: More say it's a very or somewhat good idea for platforms to display posts chronologically (76%) than say the same about ordering them algorithmically (48%) or through a human curation system (35%).
In the debate over whether users should be allowed to remain anonymous or be required to undergo identity verification, Americans are more likely to prefer identity verification. Most people — 62% — say it would be a good idea for platforms to require users to use their real name and verify their identity. Slightly fewer — 55% — support a hybrid system, which allows users to use a fake name but also requires them to provide some form of identification, such as an email address. Just 33% say it would be good to have a system that allows users to use a fake name and does not verify their identity.
Notable user verification
Most major social media platforms have some system in place to verify the accounts of notable people, organizations, and businesses. Americans are generally supportive of this practice: 63% say it would be bad for platforms to not verify notable users, while just 23% say it would be good. More favor a system of manual verification, in which a team of human moderators reviews and verifies notable accounts meeting certain criteria (68% say this is good) than a system of automated verification, in which algorithms make the determination of who gets verified (50%).
Most Americans think it's a good idea for social media platforms to make it so that users' personal information is private, meaning it is visible only to approved users: 69% say it's a good idea for profile information to always be set to private and 68% say it's a good idea for privacy to be the default setting, while still giving users the option to make their profiles publicly visible. Somewhat fewer — 59% — prefer an opt-out public setting that many popular platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) have, which defaults to making users' information public while allowing them the option to change it to private. Just one in four Americans — 24% — say a system that requires users' information to always be public is a good idea.
Most Americans think it's a good idea for social media companies to moderate content on their sites. By 52% to 33%, Americans say it's a bad rather than a good idea for platforms to take a "minimal moderation" approach, which allows most or all content to remain on the platform regardless of whether it violates the site's terms of service.
What type of moderation system do Americans prefer? The largest share (66%) favors a system in which human moderators identify and remove violations, while slightly fewer think a system that relies on users to report violations is a good idea (62%). Around half of people (49%) think it's good for platforms to use algorithms to automate the identification and removal of content violations.
Advertising historically has made up the bulk of social media platforms' revenue, and Americans generally are OK with that. By 58% to 28%, Americans say it's a good rather than a bad idea for companies to make money by advertising to users. Far more are opposed to companies selling user data to third parties: 25% say doing so is good; 62% say it's bad. Some social media platforms — such as Facebook and Pinterest — have implemented e-commerce features that allow companies to take a cut of goods and services bought and sold on the platform. Americans generally view this revenue stream positively: 60% say it's good while just 22% say it's bad. A subscription-based revenue model — which charges users for access to premium content or features — is less well-regarded. It is viewed positively by 41% of Americans and negatively by 45%.
Three-quarters of Americans (78%) think it's a good thing for social media platforms to have a section on their sites where users can explore and discover new content. Slightly fewer — though still large majorities — express positive opinions of other methods of showing users new content: 67% say it's good for platforms to display trending topics, 66% say it's good to offer users personalized recommendations, and 63% support using hashtags to search and discover content.
The poll asked Americans to rate nine types of user engagement that social media platforms might offer. Five of the nine were viewed positively by around three-quarters of people: commenting (78% said this was good), groups (78%), private messaging (77%), sharing (76%), and reacting with emoticons (74%). The four other options asked about — polls, stories, live streaming, and filters for image and video — were viewed slightly less positively, though each still was seen as good by more people than viewed it as bad.
Type of content
Americans feel relatively similarly about the types of content that are available to post and view on social media sites, with around three-quarters saying it would be good for platforms to include options for each of the following: text, images, video, and audio. However, slightly more rate each of text and image content as "very good" than do so for each of video and audio content.
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— Carl Bialik and Linley Sanders contributed to this article
Methodology: This poll was conducted online on March 6 - 9, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.
Image: Adobe Stock (bloomicon)