Americans don't want government restricting 'fake news'

Americans are more concerned about protecting free speech than they are about restricting “fake news,” according to Pew Research poll.

But they do think tech companies could work harder to ensure stories posted on their platforms tell the truth.

The fight over “fake news” has been raging since Donald Trump targeted establishment media bias and misinformation during his 2016 presidential campaign.

Pew Research said the “widespread concerns over misinformation online have created a tension in the United States between taking steps to restrict that information – including possible government regulation – and protecting the long-held belief in the freedom to access and publish information.”

The new survey found a majority of Americans oppose U.S. government action that might also limit First Amendment freedoms.

But they are more open to action from tech companies.

The report said that when people were asked to choose between the U.S. government restricting “false news online” in ways that could also limit Americans’ information freedoms, or protecting those freedoms even if it means false information might be published, “Americans fall firmly on the side of protecting freedom.”

In the poll, 58 percent said they prefer to protect the public’s freedom to access and publish information online, including on social media, “even if it means false information can also be published.”

The poll found 39 percent preferred that the U.S. government take steps to restrict false information even if it limits those freedoms.

The survey was conducted Feb. 26-March 11, 2018, among 4,734 U.S. adults who are members of Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel.

But the survey showed that when the issue is whether tech companies should remove false stories, the positions reverse.

It found 56 percent “favor technology companies taking steps to restrict false information, even if it limits the public’s freedom to access and publish information.”

By comparison, 42 percent “prefer to protect those freedoms rather than have tech companies take action, even if it means the presence of some misinformation online.”

The fear that the government could go too far apparently is widespread, the survey shows.

Resistance to government action cut “across nearly all demographic groups studied, with strong sentiments among young Americans, the college educated and men, as well as both Democrats and Republicans.”

“The exceptions are those with a high school degree or less and those ages 50 and older, who are about evenly divided between the government taking steps and ensuring the protection of information freedoms.”

Regarding action by the tech companies, Democrats express more support for them taking action than do Republicans, even if it brings some broader limits on freedom to publish.

Americans ages 50 and older are also more supportive of tech companies taking action than are younger adults.

The report said majorities of both parties “agree that people’s freedom to access and publish information online is a priority over having the government take action to curtail false information in a way that could limit those freedoms (60 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners say this, as do 57 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners).”

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