What conservative voters really think about Silicon ValleyNew York Post
Conservative voters are (or should be) worried about being censored by social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Or so holds an enduring conservative narrative. But my organization, the Lincoln Network, conducted a national poll with Morning Consult to learn how Republican voters really feel about this issue.
The results suggest a significant gap between the conservative establishment and the grassroots base, revealing an electorate that is skeptical about both the motives of technology companies and unmoderated free expression online.
Most Republican voters don’t want a hard-line libertarian approach to moderating speech online — they want more moderation. It’s just that they want it applied somewhat differently than liberals do. This, combined with their distrust of liberals in positions of influence and power in Silicon Valley, puts social media platforms in a difficult position.
The voter intensity, or lack thereof, regarding tech company political bias was surprising — especially given the intensity respondents showed in favor of President Trump. Only 39 percent of respondents said that tech company bias was an important or somewhat important election issue. Intensity was stronger among affluent Republicans, with 52 percent of those with incomes more than $100,000 saying tech company bias is a very or somewhat important election issue.
When it came to individual impressions of the political bias of specific technology companies, 48 percent of respondents saw Facebook as being biased against conservatives; 36 percent of respondents saw Twitter as biased against conservatives; and 39 percent thought of Google as being biased against conservatives.
Perhaps the most interesting data point, however, was a consensus that social media platforms were not doing enough to restrict certain types of content. Fifty-five percent of respondents said the platforms were not restrictive enough of pornography — versus only 11 percent who said the platforms were too restrictive. The same share of respondents said the platforms weren’t restrictive enough of graphic violence — versus only 13 percent who thought they were too restrictive.
Fifty-two percent believed the platforms weren’t restrictive enough of hate speech. Sixty-five percent believed that the platforms weren’t restrictive enough of “fake news.” Forty-two percent felt the platforms didn’t restrict anti-religious sentiment enough. Half of respondents felt the platforms weren’t restrictive enough of anti-American sentiment. Similar ratios hold for harassment- and drug-related content.
These numbers suggest tech companies have a better grasp of their user base than the news coverage would have us believe. Contrary to the popular narrative among conservative pundits, it would appear that Republicans, particularly those supporting Trump, don’t think social media platforms go far enough in restricting certain types of content they find offensive or abusive.
Rather, conservative fears of bias come from being cut out of the process, fear that the system is captured by the San Francisco radical left and pushing out mainstream American views — particularly religious ones about the nature of life and marriage — from the public square. This fear may not be unfounded, given the reality that Silicon Valley’s political demographics are very far left relative to the rest of the country.
The lesson from all this: The right doesn’t want absolute free speech. That would make platforms unfit for children, promote bad social outcomes, encourage widespread harassment and abusive behavior and much more. No one wants to log on to Facebook and see racist propaganda, animal-crushing videos or graphic pornography. But all these forms of speech are likely protected by the First Amendment.
Despite the divergence between liberals and conservatives on some issues like pornography, which platforms like Twitter still allow, we should all be able to agree that de-platforming neo-Nazis, people who threaten or promote violence and those who engage in illegal conduct or targeted harassment is an acceptable business practice.
To de-escalate conservative calls for aggressive new regulations, Big Tech needs to go out of its way to be inclusive of conservative views on moderation, making product design decisions and even recruiting senior leadership. Unfortunately, the reality is that these companies only tend to hire high-profile conservatives in Washington to sell products and policies they have already decided upon.
But if it opens its doors to conservative views, and conservative thinkers and employees, Silicon Valley might just find that there is room to compromise.
Garrett Johnson is co-founder and executive director of Lincoln Network, a nonprofit that works to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and Washington.