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Controlling social media’s influence on elections

A majority say social media has too much political influence. 78% think these companies have too much power and influence in politics today, according to a new US-survey by Pew Research Center published prior to the US election in November. This is up from 72% in 2020. The survey is published at the same time as the EU Commission is focusing on social media’s influence prior to the elections to the European Parliament in June. 

The Commission has just opened formal proceedings to see if Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, may have breached the Digital Services Act by not stopping deceptive advertising and political content on its services. 2024 is a US presidential election year.  

The Commission has recently decided that big tech companies must have internal teams to fight disinformation in connection with the election to the European Parliament in June.

The US survey shows 16% say social media sites have the right amount of political influence, while only 4% think they don’t have enough power.

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Republicans and those leaning toward the Republican Party (84%) are more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners (74%) to think these companies have too much political power. And while Republicans’ opinions have changed little since 2020, this view has grown more common among Democrats over the past four years: 74% of Democrats believe social media companies have too much power and influence in politics, up from 63% in 2020.

Americans are far more likely to say social media has a negative rather than positive impact on the country, the Pew survey says. Roughly two-thirds (64%) think social media has a mostly negative effect on the way things are going in the country today.

Only 10% describe social media as having a mostly positive impact on the country. And about a quarter say these sites have neither a positive nor a negative effect.

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“As social media has become a key way people share news and information, some lawmakers and commentators – especially conservatives – have expressed concerns that these companies are politically biased and limit free speech”, the Pew survey says.

It finds that most Americans think social media sites actively censor political viewpoints they disagree with

83% say it’s very or somewhat likely that these platforms intentionally censor political viewpoints they find objectionable, up from 77% in 2022. Just 17% in the current survey think this is not likely the case.

“Overall, Americans are more likely to think Big Tech companies support the views of liberals over conservatives than the other way around. More than four-in-ten US adults (44%) think major technology companies support the views of liberals over conservatives. 

Far fewer – 15% – say these companies support conservative views over liberal ones. Still, a notable share (37%) thinks this industry equally values conservative and liberal viewpoints.”

“Americans favor more rather than less regulation of Big Tech companies. When asked whether the government should regulate major technology companies more, less or at its current level, 51% believe these companies should be regulated more than they are now. Far fewer – 16% – feel they should be regulated less than they are now.”

31% say their current level of regulation should stay the same.

When the EU Commission opened its Meta investigation, Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, said that the Commission has created means to protect European citizens from targeted disinformation and manipulation by third countries. 

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“If we suspect a violation of the rules, we act. This is true at all times, but especially in times of democratic elections. Big digital platforms must live up to their obligations to put enough resources into this and today’s decision shows that we are serious about compliance.” 

The suspected infringements cover Meta’s policies and practices relating to deceptive advertising and political content on its services. 

They also concern the non-availability of an effective third-party real-time civic discourse and election-monitoring tool ahead of the elections to the European Parliament, against the background of Meta’s deprecation of its real-time public insights tool CrowdTangle without an adequate replacement.

Further, the Commission suspects that the mechanism for flagging illegal content on the services (“Notice-and-Action”) as well as the user redress and internal complaint-mechanisms are not compliant with the requirements of the Digital Services Act and that there are shortcomings in Meta’s provision of access to publicly available data to researchers.

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