How Politicization of the Information Ecosystem Has Affected the Data Industry

Video produced by Steve Nathans-Kelly

At Data Summit Connect 2020, Lee Rainie, Director, internet and technology Research, Pew Research Center, discussed how public distrust of technology companies—particularly along political lines—has undermined their faith in the reliability of information and data.

Full videos of Data Summit Connect 2020 presentations are available at

"We also gather information about the broad effect of technology companies and data collection companies on society. And it was very striking, starting around 2016, when the culture was in the midst of that election. We asked a longstanding trend question: 'What kind of impact do you think technology companies have on the way things are going in the country?' For the first time there was a collapse in those data. Usually people feel pretty good about technology companies. Going back to 2010, when we asked that question, in the case of both Republicans and Democrats, there was a substantial drop-off in the positive views that people had on the impact of technology companies and a rise in the negative views that people felt about the companies," he said. 

This became a very front-and-center issue when President Trump announced that he was goning to try to change some of the laws applying to technology companies and the way they perform. That was done against a backdrop where a lot of Americans—particularly Republicans—think that social media companies, who are in many respects are the face of technology to the broad public, intentionally censor political viewpoints that they find objectionable, Rainie explained.

"The majority say that's the case across the board, but it's much more likely to be Republicans than Democrats who feel that. And part of the reason is that Republicans think that the technology companies support the views of liberals over conservatives. That blue line at the top of the chart shows that 64% of Republicans think that the tech companies privilege liberals over conservatives," Rainie said.

That's one sign of how political polarization now affects so many things and the culture. People are becoming increasingly wary—and sometimes for political reasons—about the performance of data collection companies.

"The public is not convinced that technology companies can prevent misuse of their platforms in this election," Rainie said. "This was a survey we did maybe two months ago, three months ago. And you'll see that between September 9th, 2018 and January, 2020, there's been a drop-off in confidence that the technology companies can protect their platforms from misuse during the election. Again, that's a way that politicization of the entire information ecosystem—and I would argue the data ecosystem—has not been a helpful thing for, for businesses like yours, at least in the broad context of cultural confidence in you."