As Tech CEOs Face Senate Commerce Committee Hearing, New Survey From the Internet Society Shows Americans Don’t Trust Politicians to Regulate the Internet

·3-min read

A new online survey of US Internet users conducted by YouGov on behalf of the Internet Society, shows the majority of the American public (69%) does not believe politicians have the knowledge or understanding needed to effectively regulate the Internet.

Just over a quarter (26%) of Americans think that the state should have the power to regulate the Internet, while a third (33%) do not think anyone should regulate the Internet, and that people should be free to decide what they can access online themselves.

This news comes as the Senate Commerce Committee gears up to hear testimony from the CEOs of the major global tech giants - Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Sundar Pichai of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter - on issues of content moderation around fake news and hate speech.

Internet regulation has become a major point of contention in the run up to the election, with both Presidential candidates having proposed the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and a total of 20 attempts to amend or revoke the law in the past two years.

The Internet Society, a global nonprofit organization that promotes an open, globally connected and secure Internet, is warning that poorly informed policy decisions on Section 230 could bring dire consequences for the Internet - a tool that has adapted to meet a multitude of needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

This is because the law not only provides immunity to the platforms and applications that Internet users interact with on a daily basis, but also for other intermediaries crucial for the healthy functioning of the Internet such as Internet Service Providers, Internet Exchange Points, Content Delivery Networks, Domain Name Registries, and Domain Name Registrars.

Katie Watson Jordan, Senior Policy Advisor of the Internet Society, stated:

"The American public's concern about politicians' ability to regulate the Internet is legitimate. While it is the government’s job to defend the rights of their constituents and keep us safe, unfortunately a lack of technical understanding has given rise to the promotion of legislation with serious implications for the Internet we all rely on. At worst, revoking Section 230 could fundamentally harm the infrastructure of the global Internet. Section 230 provides vital protections to the Internet that we take for granted, and any proposals to regulate the Internet must recognize the distinction between platforms and applications, and other Internet infrastructure intermediaries."

The Internet Society is calling for the US government to do an Internet Impact Assessment using their recently launched toolkit before implementing any proposals that could impact on the foundation of the Internet’s architecture in order to mitigate potential damage through unintended consequences. In particular, any amendments to Section 230 must take into account all of the different types of intermediaries that the law applies to.

Notes to Editors

Full stats from the survey listed below:

  • Over two thirds (69%) of American Internet users are not confident that politicians have a good enough understanding of the Internet to effectively regulate it.

  • Just over a quarter (26%) of American Internet users think that the state should regulate the Internet.

  • A third (33%) of American Internet users do not think anyone should regulate the Internet, and that they should decide what they can access themselves.

Methodology:

Research was carried out by YouGov, on behalf of the Internet Society and surveyed a representative sample of 2008 US adults online aged 18+. Research was carried out between 6th and 8th October 2020 via an online interview. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).

About the Internet Society

Founded in 1992 by Internet pioneers, the Internet Society (ISOC) is a global non-profit organization working to ensure the Internet remains a force for good for everyone. Through its community of members, special interest groups, and 120+ chapters around the world, the organization defends and promotes Internet policies, standards, and protocols that keep the Internet open, globally connected, and secure. For more information, please visit: internetsociety.org.

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Contacts

Allesandra deSantillana
Internet Society
desantillana@isoc.org