Social media truly is bringing Americans together... in our frustration over social media giants.
Americans are fed up with the role that big tech companies now play in the news media, according to a new study from the Knight Foundation and Gallup.
Maybe worse — we're enormously conflicted on what to do about that.
On Tuesday, the Knight Foundation and Gallup published a sweeping study about the public's perception of the media — including tech companies — and its role in politics and society.
Entitled "American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy," the study surveyed 19,196 Americans over the age of 18 about their news consumption habits, the extent that they believe the media is important to a democracy, whether they believe the media is succeeding in informing the public, how the proliferation of online news sources is contributing to their consumption of current events, the extent of the problem of fake news, and more.
Many of the study's statistical findings basically support what we're all experiencing: a massive amount of vitriol and suspicion directed towards the press, the breakdown of faith in objective facts and reporting, the proliferation of partisanship across the board.
There's one thing Americans agree on: everyone's got to do better.
For all of these factors, the study compares differing opinions and behaviors across demographics like race, age, political views, party affiliation, and education.
"I think it's particularly sobering not just for media organizations, but for all of the organizations that are helping people become informed, including the major technology gatekeepers like Facebook and Twitter and Google," said Brandon Busteed, a partner in Gallup’s government division.
The 2017 Gallup-Knight Foundation report on Trust, Media and Democracy was co-funded by the Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Open Society Foundation. It was completed as part of the Knight Foundation’s Trust, Media and Democracy initiative.
Things get interesting when the study's authors dig into the role social media and tech companies are playing in the public's perception of the news. The study looked at how people use and feel about social media, and how people think social media should function as part of the news ecosystem.
The picture their findings paint is one of conflicted ambivalence. But there's finally one thing Americans agree on: everyone's got to do better.
The echo chamber
Within social sharing sites, the study found that people share news knowing that most people they're sharing a piece of news with will agree with it. People are aware that social media can and does further entrench partisan beliefs; however, they do see that as a problem: 57 percent of people say associating only with people who hold similar beliefs to yours is a "major problem."
Delete ur account
Americans have an overall negative opinion of how Facebook and other social media sites are affecting the trustworthiness of the news.
Furthermore, social media use itself has a corrosive effect: the more a demographic engages with social media, the less faith they have in the media as a whole. The largest group that has an unfavorable view of the news media is 18-29 year olds, who, surprise surprise, get their news the most from social feeds.
Americans also believe that, thanks to technological developments, the proliferation of available news sources is confusing them more than informing them. That finding skews conservative, but is consistent in terms of age.
Sam Gill, Knight’s vice president for communities and impact, said that this was one of the study's most surprising findings for him.
"An implicit core tenet of our democracy is that the more information we have access to, the more likely we are to get to the truth, to make better decisions," Gill said. "At a time when we have as much information as we've ever had, we find it's harder today to be informed than in the past. And I think that's something that should give us pause."
Where do we go from here? America says: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Facebook, Google, and Twitter have been in political hot water for how Russian hackers were able to manipulate their sites in order to influence the election. And while some members of Congress have expressed strong opinions about the need to regulate social media's role in the news because of these controversies, American citizens aren't so sure.
Not only are Americans split on whether these companies should or shouldn't be regulated — 49 percent for, 47 percent against — extreme splits are consistent within the demographics themselves.
Survey respondents are also unsure about whether institutions or individuals are responsible for media objectivity, trust, and accountability. Half think it's up to us to parse fact from opinion, to ensure "people have an accurate and politically balanced understanding of the news." The other half want to put their faith in news organizations.
"People are mixed, or ambivalent, about who should play a role, who's most responsible," Busteed said. "This may be an issue that's so important that we all feel responsibility, or we feel everybody has a responsibility, so that becomes the collective commons issue of, if we all feel responsible, how do we each act individually?"
Reading through the Gallup/Knight study, the numbers seem to confirm the sorry state of affairs the media is in, that we can feel in our guts, and our newsfeeds.
But Sam Gill is optimistic.
"People recognize the profound role that this technology plays in their lives, but are unclear, again, about what the rules and the norms ought to be," Gill said "That's a fantastic opportunity, hopefully, for a conversation about solutions that can cross sectors, or cross many of the divides that make other issues intractable."