Violent content should bring suspension by social media, Americans say

January 15, 2021, 7:32 PM UTC

Over the last week, several social media outlets have suspended President Donald Trump’s accounts including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Reddit. In the days since the bans, the president has accused the technology companies of an “unprecedented assault on free speech” and warned that “efforts to censor, cancel and blacklist our fellow citizens are wrong and they are dangerous.” 

Most Americans do not agree. A majority believe social media sites should suspend those who post violent content (70%) or hate speech (71%), promote racial divisions (71%), support the overthrow of the government (66%), or spread disinformation (63%). 

But in the latest Economist/YouGov poll, disinformation is often in the eye of the beholder: Republicans, for example, are divided on whether spreading disinformation should be a cause for removal. Most Republicans (55%) say users should not be suspended for disinformation, while 45% say they should be. 

Social Media
 

GOP opinion is also affected by the image of the social media companies: seven in 10 Republicans (72%) believe they are biased in favor of liberal perspectives. 

Before his suspension, President Trump used Twitter throughout his term, posting more than 14,000 tweets that ranged from rants about people who upset him to policy announcements. Throughout his presidency, the YouGov TweetIndex polled each of the president's tweets to understand whether or not the public approved of specific messages. 

Even many of President Trump’s own supporters believe that he may have tweeted too frequently. About half (46%) of those who voted for President Trump in 2020 say he has tweeted too frequently, while one-third (34%) think it has been the right amount. Just 7% of Trump voters would have liked to see even more tweets by the President.  

There have always been questions about the President’s tweets and how they should be read. By more than four to one, Americans believe they do not represent government policy. Many have not taken them seriously – or even believed them. Most of the public believe only some (20%) – or even none (36%) – of what the President tweeted, though half the Republicans in the poll believe most (38%) or all (12%) of the tweets.  

Three in five (61%) Republicans say people should take what the president says in his tweets very seriously (16%) or somewhat seriously (45%). In comparison, one-quarter of Democrats (25%) say they take presidential tweets very seriously and just one in five (20%) take them somewhat seriously. One-third of Democrats (34%) say they are not serious at all. 

Three-quarters of the public (73%) say the rules for removing an offensive social media post from a political leader or candidate should be the same as the rules for removing an offensive social media post from a regular person. That includes 69% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans.  One in five Democrats (22%), however, believe that politicians should be judged by an even higher standard than the typical user. 

The public – including one in four Republicans – supports the removal of President Trump from Twitter, an action the social media giant took last week after the violent takeover of the US Capitol, citing “the risk of further incitement of violence.”  Twitter users are even more supportive of the President’s removal (63%).

There has been a turn against the President’s Twitter activity this week, particularly among Republicans. Just one in five (21%) Americans say President Trump’s use of Twitter has been appropriate; two-thirds (64%) disagree — the highest percentage recorded on Economist/YouGov surveys. Although twice as many Republicans believe Donald Trump’s Twitter usage has been appropriate, this is a 13-point decrease (57% to 44%) from the weekend before the takeover.

Related: One week later, what do Americans make of the Capitol attack? 

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between January 10 - 12, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.6% for the overall sample.      

Image: Getty