There are 45 million active social media users in the United Kingdom, a penetration rate of 71.64%. Redfield & Wilton Strategies’ latest GB-wide polling assessed the public’s attitudes towards various aspects of social media.
In the UK, over 43 million people use Facebook. Nevertheless, only a quarter (25%) of respondents trust Facebook, which highlights that most of those who use Facebook do not trust the platform itself. Furthermore, less than a fifth trust Instagram (19%) and Twitter (16%). Overall, a majority (53%) say they trust none of the social media platforms we listed, which is a higher proportion than we found during our polling in the United States (42%).
Younger people are significantly more likely to trust social media platforms than older respondents. For example, only a quarter (25%) of 18-24-year olds trust none of the social media platforms listed, while 35% trust Facebook, 34% trust Twitter, 46% trust Instagram, and 30% trust Snapchat. By contrast, the overwhelming majority (70-74%) of those aged 55 or older have no trust in any social media platform, while only 14-15% trust Facebook, 5-7% trust Twitter, and 5-6% trust Snapchat. Clearly, the age groups more likely to use social media platforms are also more likely to trust them.
A political dimension is also evident: 60% of those who voted for the Conservatives in the 2019 General Election trust no social media platforms, compared to 43% of Labour supporters. Trust in social media does not vary depending on self-identified social class: 53% of those who say they are working class trust no social media platforms, compared to 55% of those who consider themselves middle class.
Meanwhile, half (50%) of the British public say they distrust Facebook (double the percentage who say they trust the social network). Over a third (35%) distrust Twitter, while 31% distrust Instagram, and 30% distrust Snapchat. A significant proportion (37%) distrust TikTok. Only 16% say they distrust none of the social media platforms we provided as options.
As well as having lower levels of trust in social media platforms, older respondents have a higher degree of distrust. Indeed, a greater proportion of those aged 55 or above distrust Facebook (52-57%), Twitter (44-45%), Instagram (37%), and Snapchat (37-39%), than those aged 34 or younger (48% distrust Facebook, 27-29% distrust Twitter, 27-29% distrust Instagram, and 23-24% distrust Snapchat).Interestingly, those who voted for the Conservatives are substantially more likely to distrust Twitter (41%) than Labour voters (32%).
Less than a quarter (24%) of respondents tend to share their own political views when utilising social media. The overwhelming majority (71%) do not share their political opinions on social media platforms. Men (27%) are more likely to share their political views online than women (20%). In addition, younger respondents aged 18-24 (31%), 25-34 (30%) are substantially more likely to express political views on social media than older people aged 55-64 (17%) or 65 and older (11%).
Interestingly, 2019 Labour voters are twice as likely to share their political views on social media than 2019 Conservative voters: over a third (34%) of Labour supporters share their political opinions online, compared to just 17% of 2019 Conservative supporters.
Despite being more reluctant to share their opinions via social media, only 22% of Conservative supporters said that political views similar to theirs are censored by social media networks. This proportion was only marginally lower than the equivalent for Labour voters (25%). Across the overall sample, 22% believe that those who share their political views have been censored on social media, while 39% say they have not been censored, and a further 39% say they do not know.
Nevertheless, younger people are more likely to claim they have experienced social media censorship. 31% of those aged between 18-24 and 30% of those aged between 25-34 say that those who share their political views have been censored on social media.
Several countries across the world are considering regulating social media, yet opponents suggest that this would stifle free speech. Indeed, several social media companies prefer self-regulation: in September, Twitter unveiled a new policy to remove or label any tweets containing false information that are intended to undermine public confidence in elections and civic processes, while in October, Facebook rolled out a ban on messages that deny the Holocaust happened, and ads that discourage vaccinations. In recent weeks, Twitter has attached labels on tweets regarding the integrity of the US Election.
Almost half (48%) of the British public favour social media platforms determining whether content is false or misleading and accordingly removing such content (rather than simply labelling it). On the other hand, 30% consider that social media platforms should limit themselves to labelling misleading or false content rather than removing it. Only 10% think that social media platforms should leave it to users to determine whether the content they see is false or misleading, without any labelling or removals.
A majority (51%) of those who voted for the Conservatives in 2019 favour social media platforms removing false or misleading content, compared to 47% of 2019 Labour supporters.
Support for social media platforms actively removing damaging content is highest among older people: 56% of those aged 65 or above and 50% of those aged 55-64 or above hold this view, compared to 43-45% of those aged between 18-54 years old.
Although an overwhelming majority of British respondents support some form of social media self-regulation, a majority (51%) also agree that free speech is under threat in the United Kingdom. A quarter (25%) of Brits disagree that free speech is under threat, while a fifth (20%) neither agree nor disagree.
Conservative voters (57%) are substantially more likely to agree that free speech is under threat than Labour voters (48%). Interestingly, younger people also display a greater degree of concern than older people: only 45% of those aged 65 or above think free speech is under threat, compared to 54% of 18-24-year olds and 57% of 25-34-year olds.
Ultimately, distrust in social media platforms remains high in Britain. Only a small proportion of British respondents actively trust social media platforms, which may explain why most are unwilling to discuss their political opinions online. Labour supporters are significantly more likely to express their political views on social media than Conservative voters who, at the same time, appear more concerned about the threat to free speech in the UK. Despite widespread concerns about free speech being threatened, the British public are also strongly in favour of social media companies taking activist approaches to combating false or misleading content.