Partisan Conflict Over Content Moderation Is More Than Disagreement about Facts

111 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2023

See all articles by Ruth E. Appel

Ruth E. Appel

Stanford University

Jennifer Pan

Stanford University

Margaret E. Roberts

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - 21st Century China Center

Date Written: January 20, 2023

Abstract

Social media companies have come under increasing pressure to remove misinformation from their platforms, but disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over what should be removed have stymied efforts to deal with misinformation in the United States. In this paper, we identify three potential sources of partisan disagreement: 1) a "fact gap" -- differences in perceptions about what is misinformation; 2) a "value gap" -- differences in overall preferences about the amount of content that should be removed; and 3) "party promotion" -- a desire to leave misinformation online that promotes one's own party. We conduct a survey experiment in a national survey of U.S. respondents that controls for the first factor and disaggregates the effects of the remaining two. We explicitly tell respondents that the content presented to them is misinformation and vary whether that content aligns with the respondent's party or the opposing party. We find strong evidence for a value gap. Even when Republicans agree that content is false, they are half as likely as Democrats to say that the content should be removed and more than twice as likely to consider removal as censorship. While we find some evidence of Democrats' willingness to use content moderation for party promotion, overwhelmingly our results show that disagreement between Republicans and Democrats about content moderation comes from differences in values rather than strategic considerations of party promotion. These findings have important implications for policymakers and suggest that settling factual disagreements will not resolve partisan conflict over content moderation.

Keywords: social media, partisanship, censorship, content moderation

Suggested Citation

Appel, Ruth Elisabeth and Pan, Jennifer and Roberts, Margaret E., Partisan Conflict Over Content Moderation Is More Than Disagreement about Facts (January 20, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4331868

Ruth Elisabeth Appel

Stanford University ( email )

Jennifer Pan (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Margaret E. Roberts

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - 21st Century China Center ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive #0519
La Jolla, CA 92093-0519
United States

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