Lawmakers Seek Bipartisan Push on Big Tech Regulation. Voters’ Views Indicate Censorship, Content Moderation Could Be Sticking Points
Scrutiny of Big Tech companies from the federal government is intensifying, and there appears to be bipartisan support for action on tech regulation. But while a majority of Republican and Democratic voters largely agree that the downsides of Big Tech dominance outweigh the benefits, there is a significant partisan divide on the issue of content moderation and censorship, according to a new Morning Consult survey.
GOP Voters Are Nearly Twice as Likely as Democrats to View Censorship as a Major Threat
Differing views between Democrats and Republicans on censorship, content moderation
- About 2 in 3 registered voters — including nearly equal shares of Democrats and Republicans — think the benefits that large tech companies provide to their customers are not an acceptable trade-off for the power those companies wield.
- Many voters view censorship in a negative light, with more than 2 in 5 believing it to be a major threat when considering freedom of speech in the United States. While censorship is a concern, a plurality of voters — nearly 2 in 5 — would like to see social media platforms implement stricter content moderation guidelines.
- The cross-party agreement ends there: More than half of all Republican voters view censorship as a major threat, compared to just about 3 in 10 Democrats Conversely, more than half of Democrats favor stricter content moderation — a view shared by just 28% of Republicans.
- Nearly 3 in 5 Republicans would rather social media platforms make no change or even loosen content moderation, in line with a plurality of registered voters who do not see the need for stricter moderation requirements or think they should be loosened. This follows a broader trend in which the public increasingly views current regulations for Big Tech firms to be satisfactory in their current state; in the Morning Consult survey, 30% of U.S. adults said they think tech companies are regulated the right amount, up 6 percentage points from February 2022.
Democrats Are Nearly Twice as Likely as Republicans to Favor Stricter Content Moderation Policies for Social Media Platforms
Growing appetite in Congress for tech regulatory action
The Biden administration has taken a sharp turn toward stricter antitrust enforcement compared to previous administrations, including lawsuits brought by the Department of Justice against Alphabet Inc.’s Google and the Federal Trade Commission against Meta Platforms Inc.’s Facebook for alleged anti-competitive behavior.
There seems to be some room for bipartisan action on Big Tech regulation. Republican lawmakers have signaled their intention to investigate a number of issues related to tech accountability. At the same time, President Joe Biden has flagged regulation of Big Tech firms as an area of potential cooperation among party leaders.
Despite this potentially fertile ground for regulatory action, the priorities of party leaders and voters still seem far apart. While there is a general sense that additional regulation of tech companies is necessary, Republican leadership has targeted different issues than Democrats. In response to an op-ed by Biden in The Wall Street Journal, the deputy spokesperson for House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) noted that the president did not mention "censorship," "bias," "silencing" or "free speech."
A similar divide has derailed efforts to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects platforms from being held legally accountable for user-generated content. While both parties have expressed interest in narrowing the protections, Democratic lawmakers primarily hope to push tech companies to more effectively moderate their platforms, while Republicans have sought to prevent the companies from removing certain types of content.
The Jan. 18-20, 2023, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 1,986 registered voters, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.