Americans Demand Oversight for Social Media – Especially Facebook

Apps Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp are under increased scrutiny and calls for government oversight given recent whistleblower testimony and outages
Brett Jordan / Unsplash

Facebook’s rough week may only be the beginning. In the wake of outages for several hours on Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp and given recent testimony by whistleblower Frances Haugen, research by The Harris Poll on behalf of Ad Age finds that Americans would like to see increased government oversight for social media companies — even more so for Facebook.

News-wise, Facebook appeared to compete with itself this past week.

Outages across its platforms – Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger, and Oculus – dominated the news cycle, overshadowing recent reports about Instagram’s impact on youth mental health and whistleblower testimony from a former employee.

Seven in 10 U.S. adults (71%) heard about the outages of Facebook’s key platforms – Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp – experienced on Monday, October 5.

Awareness of news surrounding a whistleblower at Facebook was nearly as high (63%). While this news is closely linked to recent controversies at Instagram, less than half of all adults (48%) knew that reports were released detailing Instagram’s negative impact on mental health, especially among young women.

Similarly, only 20% were aware that Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) created a “finstagram” (that is, a fake Instagram account) to investigate and ultimately expand on these reports.

Unsurprisingly, parents with young children (under the age of 18) are likely more tuned in to reporting on the negative impact of Instagram. Approximately half of both parents and non-parents had heard about the recently released reports. That said, a quarter of parents (compared to 18% of non-parents) had heard about Sen. Blumenthal’s experience on the platform.

Facebook’s reputation may suffer in the wake of this week’s events.

Validating claims made by whistleblower, Frances Haugen, 77% of US adults who are familiar with Facebook agree that the company is more interested in protecting its bottom line than it is protecting its users.

Among those who were aware of Haugen’s testimony, 52% now have a worse opinion of the company than they did before hearing her testimony.

Similarly, 58% of those who were aware of reports about Instagram’s negative impact on youth mental health now have a worse opinion of the image-based platform.

While Facebook’s service outages were more widely known than other recent controversies, their impact on the brand itself is likely less significant. Only 29% of U.S. adults who knew about the outages – and only 26% of those who use Facebook – have since developed a worse opinion of the brand.

Still, long term platform usage may be affected by recent news. Over a third of Facebook users say that given recent claims by Frances Haugen, they are at least somewhat likely to stop using or delete their Facebook account; 10% say they are very likely to do so.

Nearly half of all Instagram users (46%) say that given recent reports about Instagram’s’ effect on youth mental health, they are at least somewhat likely to stop using or delete their Instagram account; 13% say they are very likely to do so.

Parents of minors with Instagram accounts are also stepping in: 58% say they are at least somewhat likely to limit or completely stop their child from using Instagram given these reports.

Americans want increased government oversight for social media platforms.

More than half (56%) of adults agree that social media platforms should be regulated by the federal government. Slightly more (59%) feel that the company Facebook requires oversight.

Such sentiment increases among those who are familiar with the company’s content-focused controversies, including the recent whistleblower testimony (64%), Instagram mental health reports (65%), or Senator Blumenthal’s experience on Instagram (78%).

Among those who are familiar with Facebook’s content-focused controversies, 63% say the U.S. government should collaborate with the company to determine what content should be removed from its platforms – a potentially important note for advertisers.

This is especially important given 62% of adults feel that they struggle to differentiate truthful and misleading information on social media, and nearly half of all adults say they have a friend or family member that has been influenced by misinformation on social media.

Further driving it home for advertisers, most adults (54%) agree that after seeing an ad on social media, they associate the brand with other content that they saw on the platform near the ad’s placement.

Given such a sense of confusion and concern, it’s clear why Americans want the government to extend its oversight to social media platforms.

This survey was conducted online within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of Ad Age from October 6, 2021, to October 7, 2021, among 1,014 U.S. adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. For more information on methodology, please contact Dami Rosanwo or Madelyn Franz.

Real-time polling on this page is provided by Action Button.

Download full data tables here.