Commentary

Americans Don't Want Government To Censor Fake News

People may view misinformation online as problematic, but that doesn't mean they want the government to get into the censorship business, a new report by the Pew Research Center suggests.

"When asked to choose between the U.S. government taking action to restrict false news online in ways that could also limit Americans’ information freedoms, or protecting those freedoms even if it means false information might be published, Americans fall firmly on the side of protecting freedom," Pew writes in a study released Thursday.

For the report, researchers polled a total of 4,734 Americans by telephone in February and March. Most respondents (58%) wanted to protect freedom of speech from governmental interference, even if aimed at combatting false information.

advertisement

advertisement

That sentiment "cuts across nearly all demographic groups studied, with strong sentiments among young Americans, the college educated and men, as well as both Democrats and Republicans," Pew writes.

At the same time, most respondents (56%) said they favored tech companies taking steps to fight fake news. Here, a larger proportion of Democrats (60%) were in favor of tech companies taking action than Republicans (48%).

That partisan divide may not be surprising, given some Republicans' sentiments that Silicon Valley leans to the left. Just last week, GOP lawmakers grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over accusations that the social networking service censored conservative posts.

It also should not be shocking that most people don't want the government to start censoring news that officials deem false. If anything, the surprise is that only 58% of Pew's respondents resisted the prospect of government interference -- especially considering that censorship by the authorities is almost always unconstitutional.

What's more, the concept of fake news is itself vague: Some posts described as fake may contain empirically false information, but others only contain propaganda. While many people surely would have opposed censorship as a solution long before Nov. 9 2016, our current president's insistence that mainstream news outlets publish "fake news" highlights just how easily the concept could be stretched to silence criticism.

3 comments about "Americans Don't Want Government To Censor Fake News".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 20, 2018 at 9:49 a.m.

    To complicate matters, even "empirically false information" is frequently arguable. The wording of questions or the order of questions can be biased to elicit desired responses in the most statistically representative sample. Thermometer readings are occasionally massaged to fit the theory du jour. Spurious results have plagued researchers for years in experiments, where an interesting result cannot be replicated under identical conditions. I have become convinced that facts are socially constructed. News stories are framed to select experts opinions to show whatever the network decides is true.

  2. Larry Wiken from WIKEN INT"L, April 20, 2018 at 10:23 a.m.

    The headline for this study should read,“Americans Want Tech Companies To Fight Fake News” if you want to use the numbers properly. 

  3. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, April 20, 2018 at 3:58 p.m.

    While "Fake News" is a open subject, the public does not want fake URL links that have viruses, malwares, spyware or any other destructive and harmful tools included in the contents. Why do I mention this? I found over 200,000 bad virus filled links in Google Search Rankings. Google knows about the problem but continues to do nothing about this attack. What the bad guys who are protected behind a priacy company and attorney is doing is buying brand new (worthless) domain names then posting fake content stories. Within the contents is viruses filled links. A Google attorney knows about this along with their search ranking engineer(s) and even PR person. Yet, one can only assume that they approve of the bad links. Why? Google actually benefits in search by not removing the bad links.  This is a product of Google's redesigned "Open Source" search results and the fact that Google doesn't even run their search results through any kind of virus, malware or spyware protection software before they publish the search results.

    So get real. There are many more REAL and deadly problems with the internet than a questionable news story, tweet or comment.

Next story loading loading..