Most Americans believe tech companies should be regulated like news publishers, survey finds


Life-sized cutouts of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared on the Capitol lawn during his testimony before Congress earlier this year. (Flickr Photo / Joe Flood)

A whopping 79 percent of Americans believe that tech companies should be regulated in the same way that news organizations are, according to a new survey from Gallup and Knight Foundation released Wednesday.

But what that regulation would actually look like isn’t clear. News media is very lightly regulated by government because the First Amendment gives the press broad protection. Print media is largely self-regulated with editors and reporters holding the content to ethical and journalistic standards. The government only has the authority to intervene in extreme cases, like slander, libel, or hate speech. The FCC does have regulatory authority over broadcast media, like TV news and radio because the public owns the airwaves, according to federal law.

Many of the survey respondents appear to understand media self-regulation, at least intuitively. Forty-six percent believe that tech companies, not the government, should be responsible for making sure that the news on their platforms is accurate.

Gallup and the Knight Foundation surveyed 2,000 adults in a sample representative of the broader American populous. The researchers found that Americans’ appetite for news that is targeted to them based on their interests and online activity is waning. Some 80 percent prefer that internet companies show all users the same news content from the same organizations.

They’re also concerned that tech companies are injecting bias into their platforms by filtering content. About 63 percent are worried that excluding content from users’ feeds creates a biased picture of the news. As Knight Foundation puts it, “Americans don’t like filter bubbles.”

The outsized impact tech companies have on public discourse and news consumption has come into focus in recent years. A series of events including Russian agents sowing discord on American social media companies, massive data leaks, and disinformation campaigns have raised questions about if and how the government should regulate tech companies.

The news has resonated with Americans, according to the Gallup survey. About 85 percent of respondents don’t think internet companies are doing enough to stop the spread of disinformation and 88 percent believe social media sites should be transparent about how they deliver news.

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