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Free speech battles shift from tech companies to media publishers

America's free speech frustration has pivoted from tech companies to media publishers, according to this year's Axios Harris Poll 100.

Why it matters: It's a sign of growing hostility toward publishers, with little recourse for people who think they don't do enough to guard against bias or misinformation.

  • The lines between publishers, like The Washington Post, and platforms like Twitter where their stories might appear are becoming increasingly blurred — making it harder to be sure exactly who the public is blaming when they don't like the content.
  • Tech firms are protected by internet laws that shield them from liability for what users post. But there's bipartisan momentum around changing those rules.
  • The Axios Harris Poll 100 is an annual survey to gauge the reputations of the most visible brands in the country.

Details: A majority of Americans (57%) say publishers are responsible for content that goes against their personal values, not platforms.

  • Only 43% said platforms were more responsible.
  • While most Americans (58%) say technology companies are promoting free speech rather than hurting it, a major political divide persists.
  • An overwhelming majority of Democrats (72%) say tech companies promote free speech vs. only (41%) of Republicans.

Yes, but: The gap between the two parties in terms of trust in mass media reached an all-time high during the Trump administration, which could impact how they approach the free speech debate.

  • When asked who is responsible when content is published on a media platform that goes against their personal values, Democrats are evenly split (49% platform vs. 51% publisher), compared to Republicans (59% publisher vs 41% platform).

Between the lines: In the wake of the 2020 election, skepticism of mainstream media has intensified on the right, while frustration with coverage from Fox News has intensified on the left.

  • Last year, Democratic lawmakers held a hearing about the role of cable and broadcast companies in disseminating disinformation and extremist content.
  • A Pew Research Center poll from July found that Republicans are less likely to trust a media source if it's viewed as "mainstream."

The big picture: Tech firms are still some of the worst-performing companies in the Axios Harris 100 poll.

  • Meta/Facebook ranked 97th of 100 brands on the poll, followed by Twitter, which ranked 98th. TikTok ranked 94th.

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