Research conducted by Redfield & Wilton Strategies indicates that a majority (54%) of respondents in Great Britain would support social media companies being regulated by the Government. Only 17% of respondents would oppose such regulation.
Younger respondents aged between 18 to 24 are significantly less likely to approve of social media companies being regulated by the Government (34%) than their older counterparts aged 65 or older (74%). Likewise, a large majority (65%) of those who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2019 General Elections said that they would support governmental regulation of social media companies, yet fewer than half (46%) of Labour voters shared this view.
The disparity between Conservative and Labour voters on the issue is somewhat surprising, as the Labour party has accused the government of not doing enough on social media regulation by delaying the implementation of the Online Harms Bill until 2023 or 2024. Moreover, in July, the Labour Party argued that rap artist Wiley’s anti-Semitic tweets underline why new laws are required to combat online speech in the UK. Our findings suggest that those who voted for Labour oppose Government policy even when it aligns with current Labour policies, perhaps as a result of partisan bias and deep mistrust of the current Government.
Significantly, a strong plurality (47%) of respondents agree that the Government should play a role in deciding what content social media platforms should and should not be allowed to delete. Less than a quarter (22%) of those polled disagree that the government should play a role.
Once again, a clear partisan dimension is evident in the responses to the question. A majority (56%) of Conservative voters approve of governmental regulation over what content social media platforms should and should not be able to delete, compared to 46% of Labour voters.
Social media companies have increasingly become important platforms for political discourse. Perhaps as a result of this importance, a vast majority (70%) of UK respondents agree that social media companies are publishers and should be subject to the same regulations as newspapers and broadcasters.
Conservative voters are more likely to agree that social media companies should be subject to the same regulations as other media outlets (78%) than those who voted for Labour in 2019 (65%). Lastly, a large majority (86%) of those above the age of 65 agree that social media companies should be subject to the same regulations as newspapers and broadcasters compared to just 49% of those between the ages of 18 to 24.
Opponents of stronger governmental regulation of social media may believe that increased state involvement may jeopardise freedom of speech. Indeed, a clear plurality of respondents (40%) agree that social media companies should be able to set their own content removal guidelines, as opposed to the Government setting the content removal guidelines. Less than a quarter (24%) of respondents disagree with the idea of social media companies regulating themselves
Self-regulation has been promoted by video-sharing site YouTube and social-media platform Facebook, who earlier this year released reports detailing their content removal statistics. Notably, a majority (51%) of Labour voters would approve of social media companies setting their own content removal guidelines compared to just a third (35%) of Conservative voters. Likewise, a majority (53%) of those between the ages of 18 to 24 would approve of such a policy, compared to only 23% of those above the age of 65.
Debates around the regulation of social media companies will continue to increase in conjunction with the growing role of platforms in shaping political discourse. Our research suggests that while respondents agree that some form of regulation should govern the content published by social media companies, the public is split on how regulation should be enforced. Overall, we found that a substantially higher proportion of the population (54%) is in favour of governmental regulation, rather than self-regulation (40%).