Politics and online privacy: How American Republicans and Democrats differ, and where they agree

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A report from NordVPN finds disagreement on which political leader does better on privacy issues, whether disinformation should be banned, and what the biggest cyberthreat is.

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VPN service provider NordVPN has released the results of a Politics and Digital Privacy Study conducted on US citizens, finding party line divisions on many issues, but general agreement on others, such as whether Big Tech should be liable for its use of personal data or whether a policy similar to the proposed EU Digital Services Act should be enacted in the US. 

The study surveyed 1,000 American adults and focused on questions about privacy issues and disinformation on the internet with the aim of determining opinions on who should regulate those issues in the American market. 

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Party line divisions between Republicans and Democrats appear throughout, with opinions differing between self-identified Biden and Trump supporters differing on: 

  • Whether big tech platforms should remove disinformation (79.2% of Biden supporters say so, compared with 58.5% of Trump supporters)
  • If the US should adopt similar legislation to the EU Digital Services Act (61.1% Biden, 46.8% Trump)
  • If net neutrality should be reinstated (48.1% Biden, 34.2% Trump)
  • Who the biggest cyberthreat is: 48.1% of Biden supporters say hackers, while China tops the list for Trump supporters at 34.2%. 

Interestingly enough, Trump voters reported a greater increase in platforms like Parler and Facebook during the COVID-19 pandemic despite reporting greater privacy concerns on both platforms than Biden voters did.

Despite differences in opinion between political groups, there are some things that seemed to see a consensus between Americans who responded to NordVPN’s survey:

  • 47.9% think the US is the best country at protecting privacy
  • 49.3% aren’t sure they want net neutrality reinstated
  • 62.6% say the government should be allowed to fine tech companies for inappropriate collection and sharing of personal data

Should platforms be removing disinformation?

Despite a 20-point swing between parties on whether tech platforms should be obligated to remove disinformation, the overall majority (64.8%) say yes—but the nature of that kind of action is far more complicated than it looks at first glance, said Brookings Institute VP and Director of Governance Studies Darrell West.

“Overly restrictive regulation of internet platforms in open societies sets a dangerous precedent and can encourage authoritarian regimes to continue and/or expand censorship. This will restrict global freedom of expression and generate hostility to democratic governance,” West said in a 2017 research report.

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Instead of outright censoring or deplatforming misinformation, West said, tech companies should make use of public interest algorithms that identify and flag misinformation, demonetize flagged content to eliminate its ability to proliferate, and enforce real-name policies that will make it easier to hold individuals accountable and block fake accounts.

“Everyone has a responsibility to combat the scourge of fake news and disinformation,” West said. NordVPN’s findings point to a general agreement over this among Americans, but the hard part will be figuring out the best approach for tackling it without sliding into censorship and violations of privacy. 

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