Jan 27, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Young people want checks on Big Tech's power

Data: Generation Lab; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios
Data: Generation Lab; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The next generation of college-educated Americans thinks social media companies have too much power and influence on politics and need more government regulation, according to a new survey by Generation Lab for Axios.

Why it matters: The findings follow an election dominated by rampant disinformation about voting fraud on social media; companies' fraught efforts to stifle purveyors of disinformation including former President Trump; and a deadly Jan. 6 insurrection over the election organized largely online.

  • These young people also see Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell as the leader of the Republican Party now, not Donald Trump.

By the numbers: A majority of young Democrats (52%) said major tech companies should be regulated more by the government. A plurality of young Republicans (43%) said the same.

  • Clear majorities (96% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats) also agreed that social media companies have too much power and influence in politics.

The big picture: The national survey of 852 two-year and four-year college students, conducted Jan. 22-25, is one of the earliest looks at how young people are reacting to the end of the Trump era, the Biden administration's early days and the related challenges of governance.

Details: So far, this Democratic-leaning cohort is overwhelmingly supportive and optimistic about Biden.

  • A majority (54%) recognize him as the leader of the Democratic Party, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vice President Kamala Harris, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
  • By contrast, Trump's standing as the leader of the GOP slipped in their minds to second place (25%) behind McConnell (36%) but ahead of Sen. Mitt Romney (18%) and former Vice President Mike Pence (17%).
  • 62% of the respondents say Biden should pursue sweeping legislation, even if no Republicans support it.

What they're saying: "Young folks are actually jazzed about Joe Biden," Cyrus Beschloss, CEO of Generation Lab, told Axios. "Now, they expect him to deliver the goods — climate action, bold stimulus, healthcare expansion — even when he can’t bring Republicans along."

The bottom line: Gen Z and young Millennials live and breathe social media and technology and are confident in their own ability to use these platforms and detect misinformation. Yet — with notable bipartisan agreement — they think Big Tech's power must be checked.

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