Pew Research Center: Most US Adults Don’t Think Social Networks Should Allow Political Ads

77% of respondents were against the use of microtargeting as part of the process

38% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican believe social platforms should allow political ads, compared with 15% of Democrats and Democrat leaners anton_novik/iStock
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A new study from Pew Research Center found that 54% of adults in the U.S. believe social media companies should not allow political ads, while 77% believe those platforms’ use of data about their online activities to show them political ads is not very or not at all acceptable.

On the flip side, 45% of respondents said social networks should allow at least some political ads, with 26% wanting to see all ads and 19% believing only some should be allowed.

Research associate Brooke Auxier wrote, “Tactically, many political advertisements on social media rely on microtargeting—a strategy used to reach a specific group of users based on their geographical location or personal interests. Social media companies have taken a range of approaches when it comes to the moderation of ad targeting. For example, Facebook uses a robust classification system to categorize users’ preferences, including political leanings. On the other hand, Google said in 2019 that it would restrict how political candidates can microtarget users with ads based on political attributes.”

A total of 53% of respondents said this type of targeting is not acceptable at all, while 22% said it was somewhat or very acceptable, and just 4% opting for the latter.

Pew outlined the differences in responses by partisanship, age and race/ethnicity:

  • 38% of Republicans and independents who lean Republican believe social platforms should allow political ads, compared with 15% of Democrats and Democrat leaners.
  • 64% of respondents 65 and older favored not allowing political ads on social networking sites, compared with just over one-half of those 30 through 64 and 45% of respondents between the ages of 18 and 29.
  • White Americans (56%) were more likely than Black (47%), Hispanic (51%) and Asian (48%) to say political ds should not be allowed on social platforms, and they were also more likely to say all political ads should be allowed on those sites (28% for Whites, 23% for Blacks, 23% for Hispanics and 19% for Asians). Meanwhile, they were less likely than the other groups to say only some political ads should appear on social networks.

Pew Research Center

Auxier wrote, “This public resistance to political ad targeting is not new. These findings line up with a 2018 Center survey that found that roughly six in 10 U.S. social media users (62%) found it unacceptable for social media sites to use data about them and their online activities to show messages from political campaigns. And the results in the current survey tie to more recent research showing that the public is concerned about the interplay of major tech companies and politics. For instance, most Americans think social media sites censor political viewpoints, and few U.S. adults say they are very or somewhat confident in tech companies to prevent misuse of their platforms in the 2020 election.”


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.
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