Social Media Sites Have Too Much Control Over Mix of News People See, 62 Percent of Americans Say

Sixty-two percent of Americans think that social media companies have too much control over the mix of news people see, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Wednesday.

Large social media platforms use algorithms to control content on user feeds. But Americans have a more negative than positive perception of social media efforts to regulate what people see in each feed.

The Pew survey, which was conducted in July among 5,107 adults, finds that 55 percent of Americans think that social media company efforts result in a worse mix of news. Only 15 percent think that such efforts provide a better mix of news, while 28 percent say that the companies make no difference.

The survey showed that respondents who identified as Republican or Republican-leaning were more skeptical about the role of social media sites in shaping the news people see than Democrats were. Three-quarters of Republican and Republican-leaning respondents said that these companies held too much power in the news people see, while 53 percent of Democrats or Democrat-leaning respondents held this view.

President Donald Trump has claimed, without evidence, that social media companies discriminate against conservatives. He hosted a social media summit featuring a range of conspiracy theorists and far-right figures in July, where he claimed, also without evidence, that Twitter is suppressing his follower count.

Some Americans did not realize that social media companies have a role in controlling the news that users see, the poll found. But how businesses like Facebook prioritize news has, for wide sections of the public, been a contentious issue.

Conversations about news regulation intersect with discussions about the spread of disinformation during the 2016 election, when Russian trolls from the Internet Research Agency blasted content across platforms, seeking to inflame divides among the American populace.

According to a Pew Research survey published in September 2018, 68 percent of Americans get news from social media at least occasionally. Twenty percent said they often get news from social platforms. Forty-three percent of respondents said they get news from Facebook. Fewer respondents said they get news from other social media platforms. Facebook has faced particular scrutiny for its use by trolls to spread disinformation during the last presidential election.

Facebook has since implemented multiple changes to the algorithm driving its news feed. In June 2017, it said that it would tamp down on the influence of users posting clickbait and misinformation. In January 2018, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a major overhaul of the platform's News Feed to promote "meaningful social interactions" rather than "relevant content."

Social media app icons are shown on a phone. A Pew survey found that Americans think social media companies have too much control over the news people see. Ant Palmer/Getty Images