How Ethical Are Social Media Companies?

Consumers Express Their Feelings on the Ethics of Social Media Companies

Social media companies have been making headlines in recent years but often not in a good way. It seems like every few months a new scandal hit the news cycle. Recent examples are Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal, TikTok providing data to the Chinese government, and most recently, “The Facebook Papers” which detail and allege that Facebook knew that their platform was having widespread negative effects on their users and society but did little to fix it. In a recent poll, we measured how ethical consumers viewed different major social media platforms.

Key Findings:

  • Gen Z, Millennials, Hispanics, and Black/African Americans are some of the few demographic groups that view social media companies overall as being ethical.
  • Linkedin, Pinterest, and YouTube are viewed as the most ethical social media companies.
  • Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter are seen as the most unethical social media companies. With Facebook having the unique distinction of being the only social media platform viewed as unethical by its own users.
  • By comparison, streaming service companies are viewed as being significantly more ethical than social media companies by US Adults.

The Importance of Companies Acting Ethically

Our first question for consumers was to find out how important it was for companies to act in an ethical and moral way. 80% of US Adults stated that companies acting in an ethical or moral way was important. And as brands consider where to place their budgets, they should consider the benefits of CTV as a brand safe and favorable media channel to social. This number was consistent across demographics with Baby Boomers (87%) and Democrats (86%) with some of the highest indication of importance.

Overall Ethical Ratings of Social Media Companies

Next, we asked how ethical consumers found social media companies overall. In order to analyze this data, we computed a “Net Ethical Score” by subtracting the percentage of consumers that responded Very Ethical/Ethical from the percentage of consumers that responded Very Unethical/Unethical. A positive score meaning that the company was viewed as being ethical and a negative score meaning that the company was viewed as unethical.

This score revealed a wide array of opinions across demographics. Of the few groups that viewed social media companies as being ethical were Black or African-American (22), Gen Z (12), Hispanic (11), and Millennials (2). The average net ethical score for US Adults was a    -15 which is not good news for social media companies. The groups that viewed social media companies the most negatively in terms of ethics were Republicans (-33), College Graduates (-32) and Baby Boomers (-30).

Ethical Levels by Brand

Drilling down to the brand level also revealed some interesting differences among consumers that had heard of or had an opinion of the social media platforms. The three ethical standouts were Linkedin (38), Pinterest (35), and YouTube (28). Controversial platforms favoured by the far-right were in the middle of the pack with Gab at 3 and Parler at -10. Notably though, these platforms saw a much higher rate of consumers that had not heard of the platforms. Bringing up the rear are Twitter (-14), TikTok (-15), and Facebook (-19). Facebook’s low score does not come as a surprise as they have been the latest social media company to experience significant controversy.

Things do not get better for Facebook when looking at the data by consumers that use each of the platforms. Facebook was the only social media platform with a negative net ethical score among users at -9. No other social media platform approached the negative range for their net ethical score. Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, scored second lowest with a 22. Pinterest (70) and Linkedin (66) are the most ethical social media platforms according to their users.

A Deeper Dive into Facebook

Taking a closer look at Facebook, Gen Z, Millennials, Hispanics, and Black/African Americans are the only demographics among Facebook user that viewed the platform as ethical. Interestingly, these are also the same demos that viewed social media companies overall as being ethical. Black/African Americans were the only group where both US Adults and Facebook users both viewed Facebook as ethical by a wide margin. Among users of Facebook, Republicans (-28) and Baby Boomers (-23) were the demographic groups that viewed Facebook as being the most unethical.

The Ethics of Streaming Services

As a comparison to social media, we also decided to look at streaming service companies. When asked about streaming service companies overall, consumers gave them a net ethical score of 42 compared to social media companies overall which received a -15.

At the company level, streaming service companies also performed well across the board. With Disney+ (46), Discovery+ (44), Hulu (43), Netflix (43), and Amazon Prime (42) all standing out at the top of the ratings.

 

Written by Jake Kelley, Director, Reporting at ENGINE Insights.

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Methodology

This Online CARAVAN® omnibus survey was conducted on October 11-13, 2021. Approximately 1,000 adults selected from opt-in panels were surveyed. The results are also weighted to U.S. Census data to be demographically representative. Written by the CARAVAN team at ENGINE Insights. Learn more about our Online CARAVAN® omnibus surveys here. Contact us at caravaninfo@enginegroup.com for more information.