Mark Zuckerberg and the communications team at Facebook have been embroiled in controversy over the past few days, centered on whether the company has a responsibility to ferret out false or misleading political content and purge it from the platform. Zuckerberg has been defiant, citing similar policies by Twitter and others, saying it’s not Facebook’s role to police what is ultimately free expression.
The majority of Americans, however, think otherwise. A survey of over 1,600 U.S. adults conducted by CivicScience on October 21 found that 71% of respondents believe Facebook has a responsibility to fact-check political ads on the platform and prohibit those they determine to be false. Fifty-eight percent strongly agree. Just 19% disagree.
The numbers are consistent across the demographic spectrum, though women are much more likely than men to believe Facebook should curtail false political advertising. Respondents ages 45-54, particularly men, were the most likely to disagree.
Republicans Are Less Concerned
The results are more divided by party ID, however, with Democrats far more likely to support more stringent policies on Facebook. Eighty-eight percent of self-identified Democrats agree that Facebook should prohibit false political ads. While less, a majority of Republicans still support the measure. Fifty-one percent agree, compared to 32% who disagree.
What’s unclear in these data is whether these Republicans actually want false political advertising on the platform or whether they simply don’t trust Facebook to be the arbiter of what’s true and what isn’t. The latter is the safer bet.
Nobody Wants Political Ads at All
To give this research more color, CivicScience also asked the survey question below to a separate (but demographically identical) group of respondents and the findings were enlightening. By an overwhelming margin, 73% of U.S. adults say they would like to see Facebook ban all political ads on the platform. Only 18% disagree. The demographic cross-tabs are very similar to the false-ad question, with women more likely to agree.
And, while the differences along party lines persisted, a larger percentage of Republicans – 55% – agreed with banning all political ads on the platform (compared to the 51% who agreed that Facebook should identify and purge false ads). This variance supports the notion that Republicans are influenced by their lack of trust in Facebook to be an unbiased judge.
Everyone is Just Sick of Politics
All of these findings echo a study published by CivicScience almost exactly a year ago. Beyond just ads or paid content, the research found that only 7% of Americans – 7% – said they like political posts of any kind on Facebook. Fifty-four percent said they would gladly do away with politics on the platform altogether. Twenty-one percent merely tolerate it.
In the end, Facebook’s decision to allow political content, political advertising, and even false political advertising is a business decision, not a moral one. If the policies were determined purely by what users want, the decision wouldn’t even be close. Politics on Facebook would be gone forever. But that will never happen.