Most in new poll say social media platforms have obligation to curtail hate speech

A majority of Americans believe social media companies have an obligation to curtail hate speech on their platforms, according to a poll released Wednesday. 

The survey from USA Today-Suffolk University found that 52 percent of respondents said social media platforms should restrict hateful or inaccurate posts, while 39 percent said they should not. 

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Pollsters found sharp differences among demographic groups, with male respondents supporting a more open forum by 11 points and female respondents wanting content moderation by 38 points. Those who identify as liberal and moderate overwhelmingly support restricting hate speech, while those who consider themselves conservative oppose it by more than a 2-to-1 margin. 

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Almost three-quarters of all respondents said they are concerned about rising hate speech, with almost half saying they are “very concerned.” More Democrats said they were alarmed than Republicans, but a majority of all races, regional backgrounds, age groups and partisan groups said they are worried about a rise in hatred toward Black and Jewish people. 

The results of the poll come as Twitter CEO Elon Musk has emphasized free speech on the platform in the month and a half since his purchase of the company was completed. 

Musk, who has called himself a free speech “absolutist,” on Monday dissolved Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council, which was created in 2016 to address issues on the platform like hate speech and child exploitation. An email sent to members of the council said Twitter was “reevaluating how best to bring external insights.” 

Hate speech reportedly surged on Twitter in the first week after Musk took over the company. 

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The USA Today poll found 34 percent of respondents view Musk favorably and 42 percent view him unfavorably. About 20 percent said they are unsure or have not heard of him. 

Six in 10 Republicans view Musk favorably, but only 7 percent of Democrats said the same. 

Pollsters also found a major disparity in Musk’s favorability between those who are and aren’t concerned about hate speech. More than 60 percent of those who are concerned view him unfavorably while more than 60 percent who aren’t concerned view him favorably. 

The poll was conducted among 1,000 registered voters Dec. 7-11. The margin of error was 3.1 points.

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