Major internet companies as news editors

Publication Date August 15, 2018

Major internet companies such as Google®, Yahoo® and Facebook® have millions of users who visit their websites or apps frequently to find information or connect with others. In addition to those basic tasks that popularized the sites, they now provide news to their users, typically by linking to news articles reported by outside news organizations. Given the reach of major internet companies, the content they show people can have a profound impact on the public’s views of the U.S. and the world.

As part of its ongoing Trust, Media and Democracy initiative, the John S. and James L.Knight Foundation partnered with Gallup to ask a representative sample of U.S. adults for their views on the news editorial functions played by major internet companies. 

From a broad perspective, Americans credit major internet companies for connecting people and helping them become better-informed. At the same time, they are concerned about their role in spreading misinformation and in potentially limiting exposure to different viewpoints. They are more negative (54%) than positive (45%) about the idea of major internet companies tailoring information to individual users based on their interests, their internet search activity and their web browsing history.

Americans seem even more concerned when the approach of tailored content is extended to news coverage.

  • Large majorities of U.S. adults believe people who see news content on major internet websites should see the same news topics, and the same news items on those topics, rather than the content varying for particular visitors based on their interests and online activity.
  • Majorities of U.S. adults say they are very concerned that major internet companies’ methods as a content arbitrator can give people a biased picture of the news, restrict the expression of certain viewpoints, and increase the influence of news that benefits the internet company and its preferred points of view. 
  • Likely as a result of these concerns, the public believes major internet companies should be transparent about their methods for delivering content — 88% say they should publicly disclose the methods they use.
  • Further, Americans think major internet companies should be subject to the same regulations as newspapers and television news stations. However, they do not see the government as being mainly responsible for ensuring that major internet companies give Americans an accurate and unbiased summary of the news. Rather, they believe that obligation falls on the internet companies or their users.

Gallup and Knight Foundation acknowledge support for this research from the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda GatesFoundation, and the Open Society Foundations.


Read more findings from the report and share your thoughts with Knight's Sam Gill on Medium here.

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