Amid his attempted hostile takeover of Twitter Inc., Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk said the social media platform must be an “inclusive arena for free speech” and do more to protect it. A new Morning Consult survey found that half of Republican adults believe they cannot express themselves freely on social media, while 43% of the general public said they can speak freely.
Respondents were asked if they believe social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow them to express themselves freely
What the numbers say
- Democrats and independents are much more likely than Republicans to say they can express themselves freely on social media, at 55% and 40%, respectively. In an on-stage interview at the TED2022 conference after his $43 billion bid for Twitter was announced, Musk said that freedom of expression is important on the platform, as it is the “de facto town square.” About 2 in 5 U.S. adults said they believe censorship is a major threat to free speech.
- After revealing his more than 9% stake in Twitter earlier this month, Musk polled his followers on the platform about adding an edit button and converting the company’s San Francisco headquarters into a homeless shelter. About half of the respondents to Morning Consult’s survey said they supported the latter proposal, while 3 in 5 adults backed the former, something Twitter said it was already working on. Support for paying a monthly fee to gain the ability to edit tweets has remained low since 2019.
- Nearly 3 in 5 adults were in favor of social media companies’ release of their algorithms so users can see how content is recommended to them — another Musk suggestion — while respondents were split on bans of high-profile users being lifted.
- About 7 in 10 respondents said social media companies have a responsibility to moderate content and take down anything offensive, a view that has been consistent across previous Morning Consult surveys. Musk acknowledged there needs to be some content moderation and compliance with countries’ laws.
- In the latest survey, 42% of adults said they had a favorable opinion of Musk while 26% said they had an unfavorable opinion, figures virtually unchanged from November 2021 and February 2022 Morning Consult surveys.
Why it matters
Musk has been one of Twitter’s most prolific users in recent years, a trend that has gotten him into trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission and Tesla shareholders for alleged stock market manipulation. Shortly after receiving Musk’s takeover bid, Twitter quickly moved to dilute his influence on its board and prevent him from acquiring a much larger stake amid employee concern.
Republicans have long been critical of social media platforms’ alleged censorship of conservative viewpoints and have searched for alternatives, including former President Donald Trump’s floundering Truth Social.
And while proposals like an edit button have been discussed for years, Twitter executives have warned that the feature will need a lot of studying prior to launch.
The April 15-17, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.