Policy

Is Twitter good for democracy? The answer may depend on your politics.

Twitter is a news powerhouse. But two new Pew surveys find Democrats and Republicans are divided on whether that's a good thing or not.

Twitter HQ

Democrats are more than twice as likely to say Twitter is good for democracy than Republicans.

Photo: Bloomberg

Twitter has become a powerhouse in the news ecosystem, but Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided on whether that's actually a good thing, according to two new Pew Research reports.

The reports, published Monday, surveyed 2,548 U.S. adults during May of this year to find out about the behaviors and attitudes of Americans on Twitter. One of the reports analyzed Twitter users' experience on the platform generally, while the other took stock of how people use Twitter for news.

Together, they found that Democrats are more than twice as likely to say Twitter is good for democracy than Republicans. They're also more likely to trust what they see. According to the survey, while 74% of Democrats expressed some level of trust in the news they see on Twitter, just 52% of Republicans said the same. The reports also lend some credibility to the idea that Twitter is not real life: People who turn to Twitter for news, the survey found, are largely liberal.

Twitter's relationship with conservatives grew increasingly strained during the Trump presidency, despite the fact that Trump's 2016 campaign credited Twitter and Facebook with his victory. But conservative fears about alleged censorship on the platform came to a head in summer 2020 when Twitter began labeling tweets about mail-in ballots from then-President Trump with fact checks. Trump responded by introducing a rushed executive order attacking Section 230 in retaliation. The company further angered the right when it automatically blocked a New York Post article about Hunter Biden months later. The final blow, however, was Twitter's decision to ban Trump for life following the Jan. 6 insurrection, a decision praised by the left and condemned by the right.

That split is reflected in the Pew surveys. The survey focusing specifically on news consumers found that not only are Democrats and Republicans divided, but that even among Democrats, the more liberal a user is, the more they trust news on Twitter. Some 83% of self-described liberal Democrats said they trust Twitter news, compared to 59% of those who call themselves moderate or conservative Democrats. But this same disparity isn't present among Republicans, whose trust levels overall are lower and don't vary by ideology.

It may stand to reason then that Twitter news consumers are also divided about the site's impact on society. More than half of Republicans who view news on the site think it's bad for democracy, compared to just 26% of Democrats. In fact, most Democrats feel exactly the opposite, with 54% saying Twitter is actually good for democracy. This could be influenced by the fact that more Democrats found Twitter helped their understanding of current events and made them feel politically engaged than Republicans did.

In general, the survey found news consumers on Twitter are more likely to be young, educated and liberal than other users. About 77% of them are under 50, 46% of them have a bachelor's degree or more and 42% are liberal.

Despite their divided views of news on Twitter, however, the majority of Democrats and Republicans surveyed — more than half of respondents from both parties — agreed that inaccurate or misleading information is still a major problem on Twitter. And more than 90% of Twitter users said they had seen at least some inaccurate or misleading information on the platform.

The survey also analyzed the actual Twitter accounts of a subset of its respondents and found that, as with lots of social media platforms, the most active users produce the bulk of the posts. According to the survey, just a quarter of users produced 97% of all tweets between June 12 and Sept. 12 this year. These users tended to lean toward more political content and were twice as likely as other users to say they've experienced harassment on the platform. And yet, those prolific tweeters are also markedly less likely than other users to see incivility on Twitter as a problem.

That may be, but Twitter itself has been hard at work trying to promote "healthy" conversations among its users. The survey presents an undesirable, if unsurprising, finding for the company: that Twitter's most devoted users are also the most likely to get dragged to its dark side.

Policy

Musk’s texts reveal what tech’s most powerful people really want

From Jack Dorsey to Joe Rogan, Musk’s texts are chock-full of überpowerful people, bending a knee to Twitter’s once and (still maybe?) future king.

“Maybe Oprah would be interested in joining the Twitter board if my bid succeeds,” one text reads.

Photo illustration: Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images; Protocol

Elon Musk’s text inbox is a rarefied space. It’s a place where tech’s wealthiest casually commit to spending billions of dollars with little more than a thumbs-up emoji and trade tips on how to rewrite the rules for how hundreds of millions of people around the world communicate.

Now, Musk’s ongoing legal battle with Twitter is giving the rest of us a fleeting glimpse into that world. The collection of Musk’s private texts that was made public this week is chock-full of tech power brokers. While the messages are meant to reveal something about Musk’s motivations — and they do — they also say a lot about how things get done and deals get made among some of the most powerful people in the world.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Latest Stories
Bulletins