Pew Research Center Gave U.S. Adults a Digital Pop Quiz, and They Failed Miserably

Just 20% of respondents answered 7 out of 10 questions currently, and only 2% were perfect

The median number of correct answers was four out of 10 Neustockimages/iStock

Pew Research Center gave 4,272 U.S. adults a 10-question pop quiz on digital topics, and the majority of them failed.

According to Pew, the median number of correct answers was four out of 10, with only 20% of respondents answering seven questions correctly and just 2% managing perfect scores. The majority of respondents answered just three questions properly.

Results from Pew’s quiz included:

  • 67% of respondents knew that phishing scams can occur across multiple platforms, including email, text messages, social media and websites.
  • 63% understand that cookies are text files that enable websites to track users’ site visits and activities.
  • 59% know that advertising is the largest source of revenue for most social networks, and not other options such as exclusive licensing deals or corporate consulting.
  • 48% correctly answered that a privacy policy is a contract between websites and users detailing how their data will be used.
  • 45% knew that net neutrality refers to the principle that internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally.
  • Only 30% knew that a URL starting with https:// means information entered on that site is encrypted.
  • 29% correctly identified WhatsApp and Instagram as companies that are owned by Facebook.
  • Only 28% could properly identify an example of two-factor authentication.
  • 24% knew that private browsing only hides a person’s browser history from other users of that computer.
  • Only 15% correctly identified Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey from a photo.
Pew Research Center

Pew added that respondents were more likely to express uncertainly than to provide inaccurate answers, with the question about two-factor authentication ending up as the only one answered incorrectly by more than one-half of them.

The research firm examined the impact of education level on the results of its quiz, and it found that:

  • Respondents with a bachelor’s or advanced degree answered a median of six questions correctly, while those who attended but did not complete college answered four and those with high school diplomas or less were correct on three.
  • 37% of respondents with at least a bachelor’s degree answered seven or more questions, versus 20% of those with some college and 9% of those at high school or less.
  • There were double-digit gaps between respondents with bachelor’s or advanced degrees and those with high school educations or less for all 10 questions, with that gap reaching roughly 30 percentage points for five of the questions.

Finally, Pew looked at the results by age, finding that:

  • Respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 correctly answered a media of five questions, while those 65 and older were right on three.
  • There were sizable gaps between the oldest and youngest age groups on questions including knowing how private browsing functions (34 percentage points), knowing that Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp (25) and identifying two-factor authentication (23).
  • The gap was less pronounced for questions such as identifying what https:// means in a URL or knowing that advertising is social networks’ primary revenue source. David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.