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The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

American views on regulating social media companies aren’t as partisan as you may think

The Technology 202

A newsletter briefing on the intersection of technology and politics.

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Welcome to The Technology 202! As a former fellow at a polling institute, I hope you’ll enjoy digging into the data in today’s newsletter as much as I did.

🚨 Breaking this morning: House lawmakers are referring Amazon to the Justice Department for possible criminal conduct in their antitrust probe. Read more on the standoff and why the DOJ may have a hard time prosecuting such a case here.

Below: Another major U.S. Internet company is leaving Russia, and Google defends its deal for Mandiant. First:

American views on regulating social media companies aren’t as partisan as you may think

If you’ve tracked the debate in Washington around regulating social media, you might think Democrats and Republicans across the country are hopelessly divided on issues of speech.

But in fact, American views on what tech companies and government officials should do to address online hate speech, harassment and misinformation are far more diverse than party divides suggest, according to a major study released Wednesday. 

The report by the polling firm Gallup and the Knight Foundation nonprofit offers one of the most detailed accounts to date of the complex, varied opinions Americans hold on issues around content regulations. It’s one of the rare areas where American political viewpoints don’t fall neatly along partisan lines — far from it.

The findings show the debate is more layered than how it’s often viewed: that Democrats want social networks to be more aggressive in policing content, and for the government to have a greater role, while Republicans want neither. 

Those camps do exist — researchers found that 49 percent of those surveyed fell into one of two groups closely aligned with party affiliation and corresponding views. But contrary to popular opinion, these clear categories do not make up the vast majority of perspectives, data shows.

The other half fell into groups characterized less by partisanship than by other factors, such as how participants weigh trade-offs between free expression and online harms, how they view the state of the United States and whether they use the Internet more for entertainment or to consume news.

Those groups hold “complicated, nuanced attitudes about internet regulation that are linked less to their partisan affiliations” than other considerations, according to the study, which surveyed over 10,000 Americans.

John Sands, senior director at the Knight Foundation, said that makes people’s views on social media and content regulation a relative rarity in American politics.

“Usually, when you do polls like this, you can expect that most people’s attitudes are going to be … predicted by their political affiliation,” he told me Tuesday. “In the case of this survey, what we found is that political affiliation really only accounts for the attitudes of [half the population.]”

He added, “That leaves another 50 percent whose views are not necessarily being reflected in the current political and civic dialogue on these issues.”

While the study by Gallup and the Knight Foundation offers a sweeping look at American attitudes toward technology issues, the regulatory section largely focused on content moderation and speech rather than other issues, such as competition or privacy.

Partisan views may appear widespread because the groups more closely linked with political affiliations tended to be more politically active, engaged online and wealthy, leading them to have outsize prominence, according to researchers. 

“Sometimes the loudest voices are the ones that end up shaping the conversation,” said Gallup’s Sarah Fioroni, a lead researcher on the report.

That means that more nuanced perspectives that don’t align squarely with traditional political viewpoints often “are not necessarily getting the time of day.”

One key finding is a trend among some younger Americans, who grew up with modern technologies.

“Younger people were a little bit less concerned, in the data, about some of the hurtful content that we see online, and they also were much more likely to use the Internet for entertainment than just information searching and news,” Fioroni said. 

That’s counterintuitive, she said, given data showing younger people lean liberal.

“Typically in America, you might associate younger people with leaning more Democrat or Independent, but in this case, they were not the strongest proponents of regulation from the government,” Fioroni said.

A majority of Americans did agree on one thing, however: policymakers don’t pay enough attention to issues around technology and tech companies.

“This sentiment holds across racial identity and political groups as a shared call to action for the nation’s leaders to focus their energies on understanding and addressing Americans’ concerns about technology,” according to the report.

Researchers said the findings should serve as a wake-up call to U.S. officials. But that doesn’t mean that Americans trust lawmakers to help solve those problems. 

While prior Gallup polls have found that only a fraction of Americans — 29 percent — have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in tech companies, they have even less faith in Congress as an institution. 

“They’re not terribly trusting of the companies [but] they give them more credit, and trust them a bit more in terms of their ability to be able to adjust, than Congress,” Sands said.

Our top tabs

A second major U.S. Internet carrier pulled out of Russia

Lumen’s departure from the country comes days after a similar announcement by Cogent Communications, Craig Timberg, Ellen Nakashima and Joseph Menn report. It will likely increase Russia’s digital isolation and make it harder for Russians to access international websites and services.

“We decided to disconnect the network due to increased security risk inside Russia,” Lumen said. “We have not yet experienced network disruptions, but given the increasingly uncertain environment and the heightened risk of state action, we took this move to ensure the security of our and our customers’ networks, as well as the ongoing integrity of the global Internet.”

Lumen played down its footprint in Russia, saying that the services it provides are “extremely small and very limited.” But analysts said it’s one of Russia’s top sources of international data, with Lumen clients including state-owned telecom companies Rostelecom and TransTelekom. 

Amazon, the world’s largest cloud-computing business, also moved to limit its cloud services in Russia. The company will “stop accepting new Amazon Web Services customers in Russia and Belarus, which has provided Russian military forces staging areas for attacking Ukraine,” Craig, Ellen and Joseph write. The company said it doesn’t work for the Russian government and doesn’t have any data centers in the country. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Google defends competition implications of its purchase of Mandiant

The $5.4 billion deal is Google’s second-largest acquisition ever, the Financial Times’s Hannah Murphy, Richard Waters and Madhumita Murgia report. The tech giant is defending the deal, with Google Cloud chief information security officer Phil Venables telling the FT that “the client security space is highly competitive” and the deal “significantly increases competition in the market.”

The company has signaled that it doesn’t expect the deal to take too long to close. Venables “added that Google expects to complete the deal before the end of the year, suggesting that it … does not anticipate the kind of in-depth regulatory investigation that has become common in deals by the biggest tech companies,” Murphy, Waters and Murgia write. 

Biden is set to order a sweeping review of cryptocurrency regulation

The executive order has been in the works for months and comes amid a sharpened focus on the promise and peril of cryptocurrency during Russia’s war with Ukraine, Tory Newmyer reports. Ukraine’s government and its supporters have raised tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrency donations, while U.S. policymakers have questioned whether Russians could use cryptocurrencies to evade U.S. sanctions.

The executive order will:

  • Ask for a report on how cryptocurrencies can help illicit financial transactions and how the federal government should respond
  • Ask agencies to analyze whether the Federal Reserve should launch a central bank cryptocurrency
  • Task the Treasury Department with coordinating a review of the financial stability implications of digital assets
  • Order a look at the environmental concerns raised by the production of some digital coins and the energy required to make them
  • Require the State Department to report on how the U.S. government should coordinate with foreign countries to regulate cryptocurrencies

Rant and rave

Former Minnesota state representative Dennis Smith, a Republican who is running to be the state's attorney general, posted a tweet about Section 230 that was not well received:

Techdirt's Mike Masnick:

CNN's Bassey Etim:

The R Street Institute's Shoshana Weissmann:

Agency scanner

Elon Musk asks court to scrap SEC agreement over his tweets, claiming he was ‘forced’ to enter into it (Faiz Siddiqui)

Hill happenings

More than 140 U.S. lawmakers urge speedy action on chips funding (Reuters)

Inside the industry

Britain to force Big Tech to combat online scams (Reuters)

Apple unveils low-cost iPhone SE and new iPad Air (Chris Velazco, Heather Kelly and Tatum Hunter)

Trending

Netflix CFO has no plans for advertising but 'never say never' (Reuters)

Mentions

  • Evan Swarztrauber, a former aide to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr and former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, has joined the Lincoln Network as a senior adviser for tech and telecom policy.

Daybook

  • The FCC holds a public hearing on broadband Internet labels on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
  • The Brookings Institution hosts an event on the future of changes to Section 230 on Monday at 10 a.m.

Before you log off

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