Do Half Of Americans Really Want The Gov't To Regulate The Internet?

from the you-can-prove-anything-with-surveys dept

You can prove almost anything you want with surveys if you word them correctly. Remember a couple months ago, when we were discussing a study that suggested people in China were “happy” with the government’s regulation of the internet? At the time, I noted:

Before people act surprised about this, take a step back and recognize that if you did the same study in the US, asking if the government should be protecting children from “bad stuff” online, many Americans would naturally say yes.

And, now it looks like a “public opinion” firm is proving that correct, leading to the publicity-generating headline suggesting that half of all Americans support regulating content online the same way content is regulated on TV or radio — with 73% of all people saying that it should be illegal to be a jerk online. But is that really representative of what people think? Not really. At least the firm also reveals the actual questions — from which it’s easy to see why the answers came out as they did.

The survey starts out talking about the infamous Megan Meier-Lori Drew case, providing very little of the actual context of what happened, but instead suggesting that Drew sent cruel messages to a young girl to make her commit suicide. That’s not accurate at all, according to most reports. While Lori Drew did set up the fake MySpace page, she did it to keep tabs on what Meier was saying about her daughter, not to harass her. And, the harassing “message” was sent by another young girl who thought it was a good way to get Megan to not want to speak to the fake profile again — rather than to push her to commit suicide. But, none of that context is explained. Instead, survey takers are told that Drew set up a fake MySpace page with which to harass a girl, which resulted in the girl’s suicide. They’re then asked if they think that should be a crime — to which many people obviously respond yes.

Immediately following this, they ask people if the FCC should regulate content on the internet, like it does on TV and radio. And, of course, since people are now in the mindset of thinking just how awful some content can be online, they’re much more prone to say yes. In other words, the results are totally bogus. If the opinion firm, instead, went in the other direction and opened with questions about internet censorship, and spoke about how aggressive regulation of content online was preventing people from getting all sorts of information that could be useful to them, and then asked how they felt about FCC regulation of online content, I’d imagine a lot fewer would think it was okay. And, just for contrast’s sake, we can point to another study from a few years ago that asked people about regulating content on TV. In that study over 90% said they didn’t think content should be regulated on TV. That study is obviously questionable too, but if you combine both, you’d have 90% of people saying that TV shouldn’t be regulated, but 50% saying that internet content should be. Something doesn’t add up.

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Comments on “Do Half Of Americans Really Want The Gov't To Regulate The Internet?”

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John Daniels says:

Re: Re: Re:

Hardly. I’m sure 73% of people don’t use vibrators for sexual stimulation, but that doesn’t make them sexual icebergs. Similarly, just because 73% of those polled don’t have accounts on MySpace or Facebook doesn’t mean those people are somehow technologically challenged. Maybe they just don’t feel the need to have 200 “friends” they’ve never actually met. And before you jump to conclusions regarding my technical chops, I’ve been in IT for 25+ years, and use the Internet heavily, both for my job and in my personal life.

Ron (profile) says:

Twain and Comcast

Twain: “Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please”. My guess is distortion is easier when the facts are rather light.
Comcast: “90% of all statistics can be made to say anything you want 50% of the time (well, something like that)”.
Plus, isn’t amazing that the opinions of 1500 individuals are an accurate sampling of 300 million Americans? I’ve had it explained to me multiple times but I still find it hard to believe.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Federal Government will turn the Information Super Highway into, “How much advertising can we can cram into the internet”.

Look if the federal government takes control of the internet really what will hapen is the special interest that support senators, Representives, etc will take control of it.

Parents there are plenty of products you can purchase to safeguard your kids. If you want to police your childs surfing habits it is your responsibility to do so. NOT THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS!!!!!

... says:


People use whatever they can to change the way “sheep” think in our society.

In any given situation, there are more people that don’t care about it than people who do. Thus, anything you tell the ones who don’t care will usually sway them to one side or the other. People are ill-informed and never take the time to read between the lines or check validity of sources.

In a world where majority rules, this is power.
Sadly, the average human being is a mindless idiot.

Welcome to reality.

Anonymous Coward says:


Given that Janet Jackson’s nipple slip caused a moral outrage amongst the kind of people who actually complain about what’s on TV (seriously, have you *ever* met anyone in your life who has actually written in to complain about something they’ve seen on TV? Where do they live?), and the FCC took action based on those people, can you imagine what the internet would be if the FCC had full control over what Americans could see?

It’d be terrifying. There’d be literally nothing left.

As a side note, what kind of utter idiots were they surveying? Not having a myspace/facebook account is something I can accept, but how in the world can you be “not sure” if you have one or not.

And yeah, those questions are extremely loaded. It’s actually a crime to use questions like that in questioning eyewitnesses in connection to a crime (here at least).

T.J. says:

While its true that this study did obviously play off the emotions of the public to skew the results (can’t think of the technical name), all someone has to do is look at the recent survey about the morals of nanotechnology to realize that most Americans are just kinda idiots about alot of things (excluding myself and ~80% of people who read blogs such as this).

In the survey, out of 1015 American adults, only 29.5% thought that nanotechnology was morally acceptable. For comparison, in the UK it was 54.1% who thought it was morally acceptable, 62.7% for Germany, and 72.1% for France. I’m not sure exactly what could be immoral about nanotechnology (unless you are concerned about the fate of those carbon nanofibers), but it somehow goes against 7/10 Americans’ morals.

And just for good measure, if you want to prove how easy it is to fudge your data, try running these two surveys separately.

Survey #1:
A 19 year old college student was driving drunk after a party. He lost control of his vehicle and struck a van, killing a mother and her 3 kids inside. Do you agree with laws that require adults to be 21 in order to consume alcoholic beverages?

Survey #2:
A 20 year old Iraq war veteran and double amputee was recently arrested and charged with underage consumption. He had to pay $500 in fines and perform 30 hours of community service. Do you agree with laws that require adults to be 21 in order to consume alcoholic beverages?

That’s essentially how this survey was worded, and I could easily see your results getting skewed ~40% between each of those surveys. There should be some sort of review board for surveys, studies, etc similar to the ISO, so people can actually verify that a survey is legitimate.

Brandon says:


There was definitely no reason to bring up the story of Megan for this survey other than to play into people’s emotions, which T.J. had a great example of in his comment. That’s exactly the way the question was asked. I’m surprised they didn’t ask something like: A group of teenage girls invited a classmate over and beat her and posted the video on YouTube. Do you think posting videos of crimes on the internet should be illegal?

What I want to know is, 26% of the people they surveyed said they rarely or never use the internet. If they’re asking about something specifically internet related, why even bother surveying people that don’t use it?

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