Today In Useless Surveys: Some People Want Internet Companies To Stop Filtering News And Some Don't.

from the yeah,-that'll-work dept

Sometimes public sentiment is useful. And sometimes it’s only useful in demonstrating how little the general public understands some issues. It would appear that a new survey done by the Knight Foundation about how the internet giants should handle “news” content is one of the latter ones. While there’s lots of discussion about what the poll results “say,” the only thing they really say is that the public has no clue about how the internet and news works — and that should be the focus. We need much greater tech and media literacy. Unfortunately, the poll seems more likely to do the opposite.

There are two “headline” findings out of the report — and the fact that the two are almost entirely contradictory should have maybe been a warning sign:

  1. Internet platforms shouldn’t make any effort to “customize” the newsfeed that you see and show the same thing to everyone
  2. Internet platforms should be “subject to the same regulations as newspapers and TV stations.”

Let’s dig in a bit to the full survey. The first point is actually split into two separate parts, and the results aren’t unsurprising, but (again) really seem to demonstrate media and tech illiteracy more than anything else. First, they were asked if they think it was a good or bad idea for platforms to target news based on interests, and the breakdown here really isn’t that definitive in either direction. It’s pretty split:

This seems perfectly reasonable because the question is kind of… dumb? I mean, it really depends on what kind of service I’m using. If I’m using Twitter, which is a feed-based system where the entire point is to have an ongoing stream of everything the people/organizations I follow tweet, then, I’d be against targeting news, because that’s not what I use Twitter for. If it were something else, like Google News, where the entire point is to recommend news, then I’m a lot more open to it. So, the whole premise of this question seems silly. Really, the issue here is that people should know what kind of site they’re looking at, and whether it’s recommending news or giving you a firehose of news. That’s all. But this question doesn’t get at that, and I’m guessing that’s why the responses are so mixed.

But then there’s a question about whether platforms should “exclude” certain kinds of content. And we get the following responses:

And there’s a related question about how concerned people are about platforms excluding news:

Again, while these results can make headlines, they all seem kind of useless. Most people feel that platforms should exclude content that is “misinformation.” Well, duh. But that doesn’t tell us anything all that interesting, really. And then the latter results seem to conflict with that view, because it claims that the vast majority of people are concerned that platforms excluding news would give people a biased view and restrict expression and such. But… they want to exclude misinformation.

Basically, it all goes back to one of the key problems that we’ve had with the big debate on content moderation. Tons of people are for moderation of “bad” content, but they worry (correctly) that moderation done badly will do bad things. And they don’t trust the moderators from big tech companies. What does that really tell us? Not very much. Because all of these are conflating a bunch of different sites and different issues, such that anyone can basically cherry pick what they want out of it to try to support their own position.

Want to use this study to show that internet platforms should moderate content to get rid of “fake news” (without ever defining fake news)? Show the results that people want platforms to intervene there. Want to use this study to show that people don’t trust internet platforms to moderate at all? Show the other results. What useful points can be gleaned from this? So far, mainly just that this study is useless. So, you see stories about this study claiming that Americans think platforms should stop filtering news, even though only some of the study says that, and other parts say the exact opposite.

And then there’s another hidden tidbit that was the lead in some of the press coverage: that “Americans favor more regulation of internet sites.” Regulation of what and how? Well, again, this study fails completely in that it never actually says. The only bit on regulation is the following:

Seventy-nine percent of Americans strongly or somewhat agree that major internet companies should be subject to the same rules and regulations as newspapers and broadcast news stations are. Twenty percent strongly or somewhat disagree.

That’s it. Literally, that’s it. There’s a little bit more of a discussion about the breakdown based on age, but there is no discussion of what the fuck this even means — because it means literally nothing. What “regulations” do newspapers and broadcast news face? Well, not much? But, it really kind of depends. Broadcast news may face some FCC regulations because they use the public airwaves. But newspapers don’t. And internet sites don’t. Because they don’t use the public airwaves. Other than that, they already face the same basic “rules and regulations.” So it’s not at all clear how — as a bunch of people have claimed — this study supports the idea for “increased” regulation of internet sites.

Honestly, this feels like a kind of push poll and it’s kind of shameful that the Knight Foundation and Gallup — both of which should know better — would do such a thing. After asking all these random amorphous meaningless questions about internet platforms, they then jump in with a question about regulating the platforms without defining or clarifying what regulations they’re even talking about, in an area where the vast majority of the public will have literally no idea what those limited regulations are? What good is that other than to just get people to say “sure, they should all be on an equal footing.”

About the only interesting tidbit I can find in the entire damn study is that those who are moderately technically savvy — defined as “very familiar with computer algorithms” — are marginally more inclined than those who are less tech savvy to say that end users should be responsible for finding accurate and unbiased news, rather than the internet platforms. But that’s really about it.

So, what are we left with? A weird survey that feels more like a push poll, that lets anyone take the info and make any argument they want. When the only conclusions that seem to really come out if it are: (1) this is a really awful and confusing survey, and (2) most people have no idea what regulations there are around news.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Today In Useless Surveys: Some People Want Internet Companies To Stop Filtering News And Some Don't.”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

While technically true, I think you will find that there are no user contributions to which SEC 230 applies. That said, I would argue that the AC’s comment should stand and SEC 230 should apply, because the underlying legal principle is the same. We should hold the person actually committing crimes responsible, not the platforms they use.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: filtering

All news organizations & journalists “filter” the “news”, according to their own perspective/bias.

It is impossible not to filter news because there is so much of it on this planet. Covering even 1% of potential news is impossible. Huge amounts of subjective “selection-bias” are inherent to any attempt at supplying news.
There is no objective news source anywhere, including the internet. Spin & bias on the news actually “selected” for coverage… is a seperate but major problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why do some people rely upon the news feed of one particular platform? This is counter to logic that multiple sources will provide a better understanding of the “width and breadth”, so to speak, of the story.

With many understanding the inherent bias in all things including journalism, why do they then think that one news feed is adequate?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why?

that problem is unique to every human.

I am right, everyone else is wrong.
What is worse is that in general, over time, most people have most information incorrect anyways. As a super simple example, how many people thought the world was flat for so long compared to how many people that think the world is flat today.

How many people are there still that think that two cars hitting each other head on at 45 mph each is the same as a 90mph collision into a cement wall for both?

Everyone thinks they have it right when the odds are most have it very wrong!

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

And then there’s another hidden tidbit that was the lead in some of the press coverage: that "Americans favor more regulation of internet sites." Regulation of what and how? Well, again, this study fails completely in that it never actually says. The only bit on regulation is the following:

Seventy-nine percent of Americans strongly or somewhat agree that major internet companies should be subject to the same rules and regulations as newspapers and broadcast news stations are. Twenty percent strongly or somewhat disagree.

This also falls under the problem of surveys not educating people about the questions they’re asking. Who can name what regulations newspapers and broadcast news stations follow?

I bet if you ran a poll that asked "Should we have harsher penalties for rapists and child molesters" that most people would answer yes, because answering no or I don’t know would be telling the person conducting poll that you side with rapists and child molesters.

But of course the problem is what’s a ‘harsher’ penalty you’re agreeing to? And what’s the current penalty for those crimes? Are you agreeing that we should have the death penalty for those crimes if you answer yes to those questions? Who knows, because the question never said so. It lets us fill in our own definition and make outrageous claims like "90% of Americans support the death penalty for child rapists" when most people answer yes to this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: same rules as newspapers and broadcast stations?

yes, government “rules” (censorship) are dramatically more severe for TV/Radio than newspapers.

FCC heavily controls broadcast TV/radio content and distribution and has done so for 80 years, despite the 1st Amendment. Print media have relatively few government rules.

Of course the Federal Government does not monitor what specific individuals specifically read in newspapers or listen to on radio — but the NSA closely monitors everything on the internet. Government experts & rulemakers always know best, right ?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: same rules as newspapers and broadcast stations?

Government rules are censorship, interesting. How does that work exactly?

That horrible FCC telling a license holder that they must stay within their allocated frequency band or risk the loss of said license – How Dare They!!!!! This is censorship clear and simple ….. amirite?

AlexT says:

The author is being obtuse

I find this nothing more than a rant with the author being rather obtuse. I suspect this is confirmed by the last table showing the breakdown that indicates that tech-savvy respondents reply similarly to everyone else.

I think it is pretty clear that what people are complaining about regarding filtering is that algorithms that they have no control over are doing the filtering targeted at the individual user. This is entirely different from the user creating filters. Arguments about other media being biased filters is irrelevant as the same news is received by all readers or viewers of that particular media. If your dead tree paper showed stories targeted to the user which differed from his neighbor, most people would be concerned, and for good reason.

Regarding fake news. Yes it is hard to eliminate on platforms. At this point, Facebook is like a mix of newspapers from the NY Times to the National Enquirer. We can avoid reading the NE by choice, but FB requires that NE like content be put in front of our eyes even if we only want NYT quality news. Again, users have no choice in the matter but would like some, even if it means some regulation that forces FB to become a publisher rather than a laissez-faire platform. I use FB as the example, because it has become the de facto water cooler. Twitter is not.

Anonymous Coward says:

I want new filtered, but I don't.

Am I allowed to choose both “yes” and “no”? Let me explain.

I would like the propaganda-disguised-as-news and the nonsensical rants based on false ideas to stop. I would also like most of the click bait to stop. Or, at the very least not to show up polluting the real news.

Now, here is the problem. Some real news may disagree with my views. And while I might not like it, that doesn’t make it “fake news”. So, I do want that to show up. But, how do I know which it is? How would the filter know?

Some articles based on real information are written poorly or more click-baity but are actual news. Sometimes there are articles that are trying to debunk some of the bogus propaganda stories. All these are actual news and should show up.

And, perhaps worst of all, there are the unpopular ideas that turn out to be based in reality or the articles about something that people think is real which turns out to be bogus. How do we know?

If I can’t even figure out what I want removed from my “news feed” and what I want in it, then how is some automated filter going to get it right?

You want an example? Way back in the 1990’s there were some papers published on cold fusion. There were doubts but there was real debate in the scientific community. It turned out the be bad science, but at the time most people didn’t know until after it got debunked. Was that fake news or just a premature publication of a poorly executed experiment?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...