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According to a new survey, Americans oppose microtargeting of political ads, which depends on access to user data.

What Americans think companies should do about online political ads

A majority of Americans want internet companies to do more to regulate the flow, transparency and content of political advertising.

A Knight Foundation-Gallup survey released Monday revealed surprisingly broad consensus among Americans that social networks, not politicians, should be held accountable for the dissemination of misinformation in campaign ads.

Americans are especially opposed to the microtargeting of political ads, which means putting a spot before a highly segmented slice of the electorate by harnessing user data collected by tech platforms such as Google or Facebook. That has become one of the most hotly disputed practices in a campaign season where deceptive marketing is seen as one of the biggest challenges to a healthy democracy.


Seven out of 10 Americans surveyed opposed such microtargeting by web-based firms, with a strong majority of Democrats (69 percent) and Republicans (75 percent) agreeing that "no information" should be used to tailor online political messaging that appears on websites.

Only 7 percent supported internet companies using "any available information" to microtarget ads at the behest of political candidates.

A majority of Americans also want more insight into the source of online political ads, with three-fifths of those surveyed saying websites should be required to disclose the buyer of the ad, how much it cost, "and who the ad is aimed at."

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Republicans were seven times more likely than Democrats, however, to say that online political ads should not be regulated to protect freedom of speech.

The survey also revealed strong support for social media companies banning misleading content in political ads, with 81 percent saying the companies should refuse to run a political ad that provides an inaccurate election date to "supporters of an opposing candidate or cause."

Another 62 percent said the companies should not allow "an ad which says a politician voted for a policy he or she did not vote for" to appear on their platform; 28 percent said the ad should be allowed to run but with a disclaimer warning users it may contain false information.

The researchers noted that Google's policy forbids demonstrably false claims "though examples of this policy falling short of preventing misinformation have been raised."

Facebook has chosen not to fact-check political ads appearing on its platform. Twitter prohibits them entirely.

"The data is clear: Americans are concerned about the possibility of false or misleading content in online ads, and especially concerned about the use of personal information to target ads," Sam Gill, Knight's senior vice president and chief program officer, said in a statement.

Democrats were more likely than Republicans to support social media companies monitoring the content of political ads. Among Democrats, 91 percent said an ad with an inaccurate election date should not run compared to 73 percent of Republican, for example.

The survey of more than 1,600 adults conducted in early December had a sampling margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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