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March 5, 2021, 3:01 p.m.
LINK: mediaengagement.org  ➚   |   Posted by: Hanaa' Tameez   |   March 5, 2021

A new study by the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas, Austin, shows that the American public is largely informed about how platforms like Facebook and Google work to varying degrees, but gaps exists depending on demographic, political, and platform use differences.

The Center conducted the study of 1,010 American adults between August 4 and 17, 2020. Of the survey respondents, 53.2 percent identified as female and 66.1 percent identified as white and non-Hispanic. More than 45 percent of respondents were Democrats, while 36.1% were Republicans and 17.6 percent identified as independent.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents knew that an algorithm makes decisions about stories that might interest Facebook users and surfaces them, while nearly a quarter (22.6%) believed those decisions were made by journalists employed by Facebook. Only 41.5% of respondents age 60 and older knew that an algorithm made those decisions, compared to 68.9% of respondents ages 18 to 29. At the same time, more Democrats than Republicans knew that an algorithm makes those decisions.

Older people (above the age of 45) were more likely to know that Facebook conducts content experiments without explicitly informing them compared to people younger than 44. The majority of respondents knew that Facebook makes money from advertising, though Republicans (91.9%) were more likely to know that compared to Democrats (83.9%).

With Google, 53.1% of respondents correctly understood that search results are determined by an algorithm. Respondents with a bachelor’s degree or more (61.6%) were more likely to know that tha people with a high school diploma or less (46.6 percent). Overall, 74.1 percent understood that two people searching for the same phrase on Google might not get the same results due to differences language settings, location, and other factors.

The Center then looked at Twitter users and found that they users were more likely (70.5%) to know that Facebook algorithms determine news stories on the platform than non-users (54%). Google users were more likely (83%) to know that Facebook experiments with content without informing users than non-Google users (68.5 percent). “Facebook and Twitter users were more likely than non-users to understand how ads work on Google,” the report’s authors write. “Google users and non-users were similarly informed about how ads work on the search platform.”

In the summer of 2020, the Pew Research Center found that most Americans (72%) thought social media companies had too much power and influence over politics. In 2018, more than 70% of Pew survey respondents indicated that they were unclear about how Facebook’s News Feed works.

Find the full report here.

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