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Poll: Americans Are Hypocrites On Internet Free Speech

A majority of Americans say they prefer allowing free internet speech — even offensive speech — to policing it.


Sixty-five percent of Americans prefer “allowing people to express their views on social media, including views that are offensive,” compared to 35 percent who support “restricting what people can say on social media based on societal norms or standards of what is fair or appropriate,” according to a Gallup/the Knight Foundation poll released Tuesday.

The poll also found Americans don’t trust big tech companies to judge what is appropriate or what should be taken down. Eighty-four percent either don’t trust social media companies “at all” (40 percent) or don’t trust them “much” (44 percent).

However, among the same respondents, just over half believe that tech companies “are ‘not tough enough’ in policing content on their sites.” Fifty-four percent say Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields companies from liability for injurious speech posted to their platforms, is harmful since “it has not made the companies accountable for illegal content on their sites and apps.” To repeal this law and make tech companies more accountable, however, would likely prompt an increase in regulation since tech companies would be responsible for speech on their sites.

These conflicting beliefs also tend to change based on the framing of poll questions. Gallup and the Knight Foundation found six months ago that a slim majority of Americans were in favor of “allowing people to sue major Internet companies for harmful content that appears on their platforms.”

Although Americans say they don’t trust social media companies and don’t want them to restrict speech based on its appropriateness, there are certain areas they do want policed. Eighty-five percent believe that tech companies should prohibit “misleading health information” posted online. Eighty-one percent want companies to take down any “intentionally misleading information on elections and political issues,” and 64 percent want tech companies to remove what they deem hate speech.

A large majority of Americans, 81 percent, support the idea of a “content oversight board,” like the “supreme court” Facebook recently announced. Such a board of independent “experts” would be responsible to “determine the boundaries of free expression,” and dictate to companies like Facebook what content to remove.