Nov 7, 2017

Tech and Congress did themselves no favors in hearings

Many people who followed last week's Russia hearings with Google, Facebook and Twitter thought both sides came out worse for it, losing confidence in how the companies and congressional leaders are addressing foreign election interference, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey Poll.

Data: SurveyMonkey polls conducted Oct. 23 to Oct. 26 and Nov. 2 to Nov. 3; Chart: Axios Visuals

Other key findings:

  • More Americans are now wary of the government going too far to regulate web platforms than before the hearings.
  • In a slight shift from the survey two weeks ago, a narrow majority of Americans now believe social media helps (rather than hurts) democracy and free speech.

Why it matters: Americans weren't impressed by tech firms' explanation of how Russian actors took advantage of their platforms during the 2016 election, but most people still don't embrace regulating the web platforms to prevent it from happening again.

The bottom line: The hearings were seen as a chance for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to slap big tech on the wrist for not taking enough responsibility for what happens on their platforms. But, according to the poll, the hearings' main impact actually worsened Americans' views of all involved. While those who changed their minds about congressional leaders or tech companies were more apt to say their views got worse rather than better, even more said the two days of testimony on Capitol Hill didn't impact their views at all.

Context: The hearings were overshadowed by other news stories, including the terrorist attack in New York. Just 19% said they paid a lot of attention to the hearings. But the wariness of government regulation is widespread and bipartisan enough to be a warning to lawmakers who want to pursue it.

By the numbers:

  • 34% of Americans who paid some level of attention to the hearings said that they think worse of the way major tech companies are handling foreign election interference after the Capitol Hill appearances. Just 13% said they thought better of the companies.
  • A similar trend held true for Congress, with 38% of people who followed the hearings saying they thought worse of leaders' handling of the foreign interference issue. 13% said they thought better of them.
  • For both Congress and the tech companies, however, a large proportion of people who paid attention to the hearings said that they didn't shift their views on how both are handling foreign election meddling or didn't answer.
  • After the hearings, 57% said that they are concerned the government will go too far in regulating the operations of technology companies, up from 52% before the hearings. The skepticism was up across party lines, but independents shifted the most — a 7 percentage point increase.
  • The percentage of Americans who think Google, Facebook and Twitter should be regulated like utilities hardly shifted, moving from 45% before the hearings to 44% afterwards.
  • They also widely disagree with the idea of regulating the companies as we do some media companies, with 62% of adults siding against the idea and only 34% supporting it.

Behind the numbers: The people surveyed were also asked to explain why they thought that social media helps or hurts free speech and democracy.

  • Why social media helps democracy, according to one person surveyed: "[The] ability to share and express yourself is more important than any other purpose of social media. It is the responsibility of those consuming that information to place proper perspective on what they read."
  • Why it hurts democracy, according to another person: "Currently we can limit any information that doesn't agree with our beliefs, and that is exacerbated by social networks. People need to get out, meet other people physically, engage with others ... Talk."

Methodology: The poll was conducted online by SurveyMonkey on Nov. 2 and 3 with a 5,503 person sample and a modeled error estimate of plus or minus two percentage points. Data have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to reflect the demographic composition of the United States age 18 and over. Crosstabs available here.

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