National Survey Finds Little Support for Prohibiting Political Bias Online—Especially at the Cost of Free Speech

December 10, 2018

WASHINGTON — Despite frequent accusations from many politicians and commentators that Internet platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter are biased against conservative points of view, a new national survey from the Center for Data Innovation finds that fewer than 3 in 10 Americans (29 percent) agree the U.S. government should prohibit political bias in online services—and if prohibiting bias would limit free speech, then only 19 percent approve.

The survey finds similarly tepid support even among conservatives: 41 percent say they agree with prohibiting political bias in online services—but that drops to just 27 percent if it would be at the expense of free speech.

“These findings suggest that even after a prolonged campaign to convince the public that political bias is rampant among tech companies, Americans still have little appetite for more regulation,” said the Center’s director, Daniel Castro. “It is important to recognize that regulating online platforms would come with tradeoffs. When people consider that prohibiting political bias online could limit free speech, support for the idea, which is weak to begin with, erodes even further.”

The Center’s findings come from a national online poll of 3,184 U.S. adult Internet users conducted November 26 through November 28, 2018.

The poll found that Americans are evenly divided on the more general question of whether the government “should do more to regulate online services like Facebook and Google”—36 percent agree, 37 percent disagree. And, as with the specific idea of a federal prohibition on political bias, majorities oppose the general idea of increasing regulation on Internet companies if it would come with tradeoffs like limiting free speech or having to pay for services.

The poll found that support for regulation under any of these circumstances is weak in all regions of the country, and especially so in the Midwest.

“The survey shows that even among the few whose first instinct might have been to regulate tech companies, support drops substantially once people consider how it will impact them,” said Daniel Castro. “Policymakers should tread carefully, because Americans have made it clear that they oppose policies that would limit speech, degrade the online experience, or take money out of their wallets.”

Read the survey results.