A new survey released by the Freedom Forum entitled, “The First Amendment: Where America Stands,” reveals that while 94% of Americans value the First Amendment as vital, they are nonetheless divided on certain key issues.
Many Americans appear reluctant to engage in speech that may be seen as controversial. According to the survey of 3,000 Americans in July and August 2020, more than four in 10 people say that, at least once, they haven’t expressed an opinion out of fear of being punished, and nearly half of the respondents (49%) report that they have never shared a political opinion on social media. Furthermore, 58% say that political correctness hampers free speech.
Hate speech is a divisive concept among the respondents. Fifty-four percent say that they know the First Amendment protects hate speech, but they are split over whether it should be protected. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that people should say whatever they want, while 24% percent say that hate speech should be outlawed.
The Freedom Forum survey also questioned the respondents about college campuses and free speech. According to the survey, 59% of respondents say that college campuses should support the free expression of all ideas, even the ones some might find offensive. However, 36% think that school administrators and students actively try to curtail controversial perspectives.
American’s trust of the media has been in decline for years now, and the Freedom Forum survey reflects this distressing fact. Only 14% of respondents say they trust the media, and 41% say they consider journalists a threat to the First Amendment. The most trusted news source in the survey was PBS at just 31%.
With disinformation rampant about so-called election fraud and the safety and efficacy of COVID vaccinations, the Freedom Forum also questioned respondents about misinformation, disinformation, and social media. Seventy-four percent believe that “fake news” is a serious problem, and 72% support banning political ads that contain falsehoods.
A large majority of Americans also think that social media platforms should be responsible for content posted on their sites, while just 39% understand that federal law protects social media companies from liability for most content its users post on their sites.
There’s a generational divide among Americans about protesting and the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble. According to the survey, 69% of Americans report they have never participated in a protest or public rally. However, Millennials and Gen Zers were the groups most likely to exercise their right to protest, 38% and 31%, respectively.
And finally, nearly three-quarters of the respondents say they have participated in online or in-person petitions in the past. Forty-one percent report volunteering with a local organization to advocate for a particular cause, and 40% report contacting an elected official to change a policy or a law.