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.
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.