Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

Half of Americans want the internet to be a free speech zone. What does that mean?

free speech
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Half of Americans want the internet to be a free speech zone. But what does that mean?

With Elon Musk preparing to take control of Twitter, users and observers are wondering what it will mean for content moderation on the platform. But there’s a broader question surrounding free speech on the internet, and Americans are, as usual, divided along party lines.

Half of Americans believe the internet “should be a free speech zone, where speech should be uncensored,” according to a new poll by YouGov, with Republicans far more in favor of the concept than Democrats.

Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (72 percent) agreed that the internet should be uncensored, compared to 34 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of independents. But that’s a vague statement that leaves a lot to interpretation.

“I’m not even sure there’s consensus of what a free speech zone actually means,” said India McKinney, director of federal affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for digital privacy and free speech.

And as McKinney noted, the First Amendment protects people from government interference in speech. Private businesses are not covered and social media platforms must provide some content moderation unless they are willing to overwhelm users with spam.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

“It’s actually impossible to completely stop content moderation," she said. “Truly eliminating content moderation means inundating people with spam. It keeps systems functional.”

A number of conservative-focused social media platforms have been launched in recent years in an attempt to attract users away from Facebook and Twitter, which banned Donald Trump and other Republicans for spreading disinformation.

Those platforms, like Parler, Getter and Trump’s own Truth Social, say they do not censor users. So far they have had mixed results in building an audience. Truth Social had a rocky launch and recently dropped down the list of most downloaded apps before surging back to the top this week.

Conservatives have long been critical of Facebook and Twitter, alleging the platforms uses algorithms that help the political left. However, conservative users like Ben Shapiro, Sean Hannity and Dan Bongino regularly have some of the most popular posts on Facebook.

Musk has said he wants Twitter to be a center for free speech that is fair to all parties.

He attempted to explain his intent on Tuesday, but his explanation – “By ‘free speech’, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law” – left many users concerned about the platform being a home for disinformation and hate speech.

And others found opportunities to tweak Musk himself.

"When people like Elon Musk say they are 'free speech absolutists' we should treat that with a great deal of skepticism, especially coming from a billionaire who has often tried to squelch the speech of those under his employ and who operates within a broader political economy where essentially money equals speech," said Victor Pickard, co-director of the Media, Inequality & Change Center at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. "We are not talking about a democratically governed public square when we're talking about discursive spaces on the internet."

EFF touts the "Santa Clara Principles," which cover transparency and accountability, as a better way to manage content on social media.

Amid ongoing claims of “cancel culture,” YouGov also asked people whether the internet makes it easier to share one’s opinion without facing consequences. Here, the numbers were reversed.

Again, 49 percent of respondents agreed that the internet does make that easier. However, while 62 percent of Democrats said yes, only 46 percent of Republicans agreed (along with 45 percent of independents).

The survey of 1,000 adults was conducted March 22-25 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

Read More

Robotic hand holding a ballot
Alfieri/Getty Images

What happens when voters cede their ballots to AI agents?

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

With the supposed goal of diversifying the electorate and achieving more representative results, State Y introduces “VoteGPT.” This artificial intelligence agent studies your social media profiles, your tax returns and your streaming accounts to develop a “CivicU.” This artificial clone would use that information to serve as your democratic proxy.

Keep ReadingShow less
Sen. Ron Johnson in front of a chart

Sen. Ron Johnson claims President Biden has allowed 1,700 terrorists to enter the country. That total refers to encounters (people who were stopped)

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Has President Joe Biden ‘let in’ nearly 1,700 people with links to terrorism?

This fact brief was originally published by Wisconsin Watch. Read the original here. Fact briefs are published by newsrooms in the Gigafact network, and republished by The Fulcrum. Visit Gigafact to learn more.

Has President Joe Biden ‘let in’ nearly 1,700 people with links to terrorism?


Border agents have encountered individuals on the federal terrorist watchlist nearly 1,700 times since President Joe Biden took office — that means those people were stopped while trying to enter the U.S.

Keep ReadingShow less
Social media app icons
hapabapa/Getty Images

Urban planning can counter social media’s impact on young people

Dr. Jones is a grassroot urban planner, architectural designer, and public policy advocate. She was recently a public voice fellow through The OpEd Project.

Despite the breathtaking beauty of our world, many young people remain oblivious to it, ensnared by the all-consuming grip of social media. A recent Yale Medicine report revealed the rising negative impact social media has on teens, as this digital entrapment rewires their brains and leads to alarming mental and physical health struggles. Tragically, they are deprived of authentic life experiences, having grown up in a reality where speculation overshadows genuine interactions.

For the sake of our society’s future, we must urgently curb social media’s dominance and promote real-world exploration through urban planning that ensures accessible, enriching environments for all economic levels to safeguard the mental and physical health of the young.

Keep ReadingShow less
podcast mic in the middle of a red and blue America
Topdesigner/Getty Images

Fellowship brings Gen Z voices into democracy and podcasting

Spinelle is the founder of The Democracy Group podcast network and the communications lead for the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State.

According to Edison Research, nearly half of Gen Z are monthly podcast listeners. But their voices are largely absent from podcasts about democracy, civic engagement and civil discourse. The Democracy Group’s podcast fellowship, which recently completed its third cohort, aims to change that.

Keep ReadingShow less
Microchip labeled "AI"
Eugene Mymrin/Getty Images

Preparing for an inevitable AI emergency

Frazier is an assistant professor at the Crump College of Law at St. Thomas University. Starting this summer, he will serve as a Tarbell fellow.

Artificial intelligence is advancing at a speed and in ways that were unanticipated even by the foremost AI experts. Just a few decades ago, AI was largely theoretical, existing primarily in the realms of science fiction and academic research. Today, AI permeates nearly every aspect of our lives, from the algorithms that curate social media feeds to the autonomous systems that drive cars. This rapid advancement, while promising in many respects, also heralds a new era of uncertainty and potential peril.

Keep ReadingShow less