Tech

Elon Musk Pledged to Better Protect Free Speech in Taking Twitter Private. Many Twitter Users Think Privatizing Social Media Companies Would Worsen Misinformation, Hate Speech

About 2 in 5 U.S. Twitter users said the spread of misinformation would get worse if social media companies go private, compared to 1 in 5 who said it would get better

A Morning Consult survey found that nearly 4 in 5 Twitter users had seen, read or heard at least something about Elon Musk's $44 billion bid to buy the social media platform. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
  • Over a third of Twitter users said they believe political debate and hate speech would get worse if a social media platform went from public to private.

  • About 2 in 5 Twitter users said they would not continue to use a social media platform if the owner had close ties to China.

  • 3 in 5 Twitter users and U.S. adults overall said they believe social media companies have the right to ban users if they violate policies on the types of content they share.

In making his $44 billion bid to buy Twitter Inc., Elon Musk pledged to take the company private and protect freedom of expression on a platform he has called the “de facto town square.”

But a new Morning Consult survey indicates that many users of the platform are concerned about what privatizing a social media company could mean for handling misinformation, political debate and hate speech. 

Nearly 2 in 5 Twitter users said they believe misinformation would worsen if a social media company goes private, compared to about 1 in 5 who said it would improve. And over a third of adults on the platform said political debate and hate speech would also get worse under such a deal.

About 1 in 3 Twitter Users Believe Misinformation, Hate Speech Will Worsen if Social Media Companies Go Private

Respondents were asked if the following issues would get better or worse if a social media platform went from being a public company to a private one:

Survey conducted April 30-May 3, 2022, among a representative sample of 914 U.S. Twitter users, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. Don’t know/No opinion responses are not shown.

Meanwhile, 31% of Twitter users said they believed the user experience would get better on a social media platform if it were a private company, compared to 22% who said it would get worse. Musk has suggested that Twitter implement an edit button for tweets along with other improvements, something that more than half of U.S. adults overall said they supported in a previous Morning Consult survey.

 Aron Solomon, chief legal analyst at lawyers’ digital marketing company Esquire Digital, said given the restrictions placed on public companies and their board of directors, taking Twitter private could result in big changes. 

Going private could allow Twitter to set policies more easily on content and who can use the platform as Musk would not be answerable to anyone, even to the point where it could allow “only certain types of speech that align with a certain political perspective,” he said in an email.

“Elon Musk’s private ownership of Twitter makes it the de facto Elon Musk show, if that’s what he wants it to be,” Solomon continued.

About 7 in 10 Twitter Users Would Continue to Use a Social Media Platform if Owner Supported Their Favored Cause

Respondents were asked if they would continue using a social media platform if the owner …

Survey conducted April 30-May 3, 2022, among a representative sample of 914 U.S. Twitter users, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

About 7 in 10 Twitter users said they would be likely to continue using a social media platform if its owner publicly supported a cause close to them, while more than half said the same if the owner were known to be a philanthropist.

Meanwhile, 54% of Twitter users said they would stick with a platform if its owner were a billionaire, far above the 12% who said they would not. Roughly 2 in 5 said they would not stay on a platform if the owner were known for making rash decisions or if that person publicly came out against a cause close to them.

 Other tech executives questioned whether Musk would be influenced by China if his Twitter deal were finalized due to Tesla Inc.’s manufacturing in the country, including former Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos. And it appears that Twitter’s users are similarly concerned: 41% said they would not stay on a platform if its owner had close ties to China, while 52% said the same for Russia.

3 in 5 Adults Believe Social Media Companies Have a Right to Ban Users

Respondents were asked if they think social media companies have the right to ban users who violate policies on the types of content they can share

Survey conducted April 30-May 3, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

There have been suggestions that Musk’s acquisition of Twitter could result in the lifting of bans placed on high-profile users, including former President Donald Trump. In a statement last month, NAACP President Derrick Johnson warned Musk against letting Trump back on the platform, saying it would make Twitter a “petri dish for hate speech, or falsehoods that subvert our democracy.”

 Three in 5 adults said they believe social media companies have the right to ban users if they violate policies on the types of content they share, while equal shares of Twitter and social media users said the same, showing there may be little appetite among the public for letting banned users back on.

Majority of Twitter Users Put Onus on Social Media Companies to Police Sharing of Political Content

Respondents were asked if the following groups are responsible for crafting and implementing policies about how political content is shared on social media:

Survey conducted April 30-May 3, 2022, among a representative sample of 914 U.S. Twitter users, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-3 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Twitter users put most of the onus on social media companies themselves to police how political content is shared on their platforms: 55% said platforms are responsible for crafting and implementing policies about how political content is shared. 

About 3 in 10 said users themselves are responsible for crafting and implementing those policies, while big majorities said that responsibility does not lie with the likes of Congress and the president and his administration.

Twitter Users More Likely Than Public Overall to Have Heard Something About Musk’s Twitter Buy
Almost 4 in 5 Twitter users have heard about the Tesla CEO’s $44 billion acquisition

Respondents were asked how much they have seen, read or heard about Elon Musk’s planned $44 billion acquisition of Twitter

Survey conducted April 30-May 3, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

The news of Musk’s planned takeover of Twitter made a splash, as more than 7 in 10 adults and nearly 4 in 5 Twitter users reported hearing at least something about the acquisition.

Twitter spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.

Musk’s move prompted elected officials on both sides of the aisle to restate their motivations and aims around regulating social media, a trend that has gained traction in recent times but could flounder in an election year amid partisan bickering.

At a press conference, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted that Republicans have had their “fair share of complaints in how it’s been run in the past,” and said it would be “interesting” to see what effect Musk’s ownership would have on that.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over potential social media regulations, tweeted that she is “hopeful for a new free speech direction” under Musk. A spokesperson for Republicans on the committee declined to comment further.

Evan Greer, director at digital rights nonprofit Fight for the Future, said Musk’s purchase serves as a reminder of the importance of pending antitrust legislation to “meaningfully crack down” on the power of big tech companies, something that has public support

Other elected officials looking to regulate social media said they are less concerned about who owns the platforms and are more focused on the impacts they have on users.

“It’s not about who owns these companies,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on communications and technology, said in an email. “It’s about whether the actions taken by large tech platforms are harming consumers. It’s about whether those harmed can have a day in court. That’s the lens I’ll continue watching these issues through.”

Morning Consult