Americans’ Views on News Content From Internet Companies

Holly Wolf of Gallup:

This representative survey of U.S. adults found that most Americans are concerned with the prospect of internet companies tailoring news to users based on their interests and behavior. Seventy-three percent of U.S. adults prefer that companies show all people the same set of news topics, rather than tailor topics based on their interests, past browsing details or search history. Further, 80% think the choice of news organizations’ stories they show people should be similar, rather than varying news organization stories based on a person’s past internet activity.

These findings are bizarre because, in most cases, users self-select what information they see by following specific news organizations or aggregators. Furthermore, the idea that internet companies can provide neutral news information without editorializing it is preposterous — neutrality is, itself, an editorial decision.

Even though Americans express concerns about major internet companies playing a news editorial function, they tend not to believe those companies are endorsing a story’s message or its accuracy when it appears on their website or app. Forty-three percent of U.S. adults equate an internet companies’ displaying content on its platforms as an endorsement of it, while 55% do not. A minority of Democrats (27%) compared to a majority of Republicans (62%) believe that internet companies are endorsing the news stories that they display.

The question, as asked in the survey (PDF), was: “When a major internet company like Google, Facebook or Yahoo displays a particular news item on your news feed, do you believe that they are endorsing that news item — that is, telling you they believe it is accurate and that they agree with its message?”

It is remarkable that even 43% of respondents answered “yes” to that.