A majority of Americans are losing faith in the ability of technology companies to prevent their platforms from being misused to influence the 2020 presidential election, according to a new study released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center. Nearly three-quarters of Americans (74 percent) do not believe platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google will prevent election interference, the study found. More importantly, both parties can feel the sentiment.
Pew said republicans and Republican-leaning independents (76 percent) and Democrats (74 percent) have almost the same share of the ability of technology companies to prevent their platforms from being abused in election interference.
Still, 78 percent of Americans think it’s the responsibility of technology companies to do so. The percentage of Democrats is slightly higher (81 percent) than among Republicans (75 percent).
While Americans have similar negative feelings about platform abuse ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, their lack of confidence has worsened over the past year. As of January 2020, 74 percent of Americans said they had no confidence in technology companies, compared with 66 percent in September 2018. For Democrats, the drop in trust has been even greater, with 74 percent of Americans feeling “less” or “completely unconfident”, compared with 62 percent in September 2018. At the same time, Republican confidence has fallen, with 72 percent saying they lack confidence in 2018, compared with 76 percent now.
Even among those who believe technology companies can handle election interference, only a handful (5 percent) of Americans are confident in their capabilities. Most optimists say the challenges are daunting and complex, with 20 percent saying they only feel “some” confident.
The lack of confidence and the desire for accountability in technology companies increases with age. For example, 31 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds have at least some confidence in the capabilities of technology companies, compared with 20 percent of those aged 65 and over. Similarly, 74 per cent of young people believe companies are responsible for platform abuse, while 88 per cent of over-65s believe technology companies are responsible.
A 2018 Pew study found that Republicans are more likely to feel that social media platforms favor liberal views, while Democrats are more inclined to regulate and restrict false information. Of course, the issue of electoral interference is not limited to the United States. But news of Russian meddling in U.S. politics in particular – involving every major social media platform – has fueled Americans’ poor views on technology companies and their ability to prevent abuse. The issue continues to this day, with reports that Russia may once again try to intervene in the 2020 U.S. election. For now, Russia’s focus is on assisting Senator Bernie Sanders’s campaign to interfere in the Democratic primary, the report said.
At the same time, many of the same vulnerabilities that Russia exploited during the 2016 election remain, for example, because these platforms have the ability to spread fake news quickly. According to a report in the New York Times, Russian hackers and trolls are now better at covering up their footprints, and have even paid Americans to set up Facebook pages to circumvent Facebook’s ban on foreigners buying political ads.
The Pew report doesn’t elaborate on why Americans have lost so much faith in technology companies since the last election, but it may not be just the consequences of election meddling alone. Five years ago, Pew reported, technology companies were largely seen as having a positive impact on the United States. But now only about half of American adults think these companies are having a positive impact.