Since the birth of social media sites over the past twenty years, their use around the world has grown exponentially. Over 220 million Americans and 52 million Britons, for instance, have an account with Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking site.
The rise of social media has not been without its controversies. Recently, the safety and security of some sites has become the subject of contemporary debate and political controversy. In a striking example, Western governments have started banning their employees from using TikTok over concerns of Chinese espionage through the site.
Research from Redfield & Wilton Strategies finds that Americans and Britons are somewhat distrustful of social media sites and weary of the security they purport to afford their users. Even so, voters seem generally unwilling to change their social media habits, posing a challenge to governments keen to regulate the use of social media sites, especially among younger members of the public, or to protect their citizens from foreign surveillance.
Despite the high frequency of social media use across both countries, distrust in social media platforms remains high. When asked what social media platform Britons trust, a plurality (44%) answer “none.” Facebook is the most trusted site, but even then only less than a third (30%) list it as a trusted platform.
In the United States, 39% identify Facebook as a platform they trust, while 27% identify Instagram and 22% cite Twitter, making them the most trusted social media sites in the country. Conversely, the three most distrusted social media platforms are Facebook (with 44% of Americans identifying it as a platform they distrust), TikTok (42%), and Twitter (37%).
66% of Americans, furthermore, are fairly or extremely concerned about the information social media companies have about them. 22% are only slightly concerned, while only 13% are not at all concerned.
Yet, when asked which entity they would be most concerned about having information about them, Americans are divided as to whether they are more worried about a foreign government or their own. A plurality (34%) say the Chinese or Russian government, but a very similar 33% say the US government. Only 16% say private corporations.
In light of their lack of trust in social media sites, Britons seem generally supportive of proposed measures to curtail the influence of these networks.
77% of British voters support the UK government’s plan to make sure social media companies more stringently check the age of their users, while only 3% oppose this move. However, fewer Britons think it will be possible for social media companies to be practically able to check the age of their users in accordance with these new regulations (40%).
Meanwhile, 52% support and only 5% oppose the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which still applies in the UK.
Furthermore, 50% of Britons support the decision of the governments of the United States, Europe, and Canada to ban their employees from having TikTok on their devices in light of concerns about Chinese surveillance. Only 11% oppose these bodies acting this way.
Critically, pluralities of Tiktok users in Britain (44%) and in America (49%) say they would stop using TikTok if it turns out that the Chinese government monitors their activity and gathers information about them through the application. Fascinatingly, as many as 32% of Britons and 32% of Americans would continue to use the social media service, even if they knew the Chinese government was monitoring their activity and gathering data about them.
Americans are similarly divided as to whether they would be willing to delete their social media in general. When asked about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and TikTok, users of these applications are split almost 50/50 as to whether they would be willing or not, for every application.
Britons appear more amenable to the idea, as around 60% of Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and TikTok users, respectively, say they would be willing to delete their accounts, compared to 40% who would be unwilling. Facebook and Twitter users in Britain, though, are almost evenly divided between willingness and unwillingness (49% to 51% for Facebook and 52% to 49% for Twitter, respectively).
Our results show that, despite Britons and Americans lacking trust in social media networks, a sizable percentage of people in both countries use them regularly, and almost a third of Tiktok users across GB and the US would not be willing to delete the app, even if it was found to pose a security risk. With western governments weary of the risk that foreign nations (China first and foremost) pose to their national security, they may be alarmed just how much their citizens are unwilling to part ways with the app.