The share of “online” Americans who say the internet has mostly been a good thing for society fell from 76% to 70% in the past four years, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. During the same time, there has been a 6-percentage-point increase in the number of those who say the internet has had both good and bad impacts.
There are diverse reasons about opinions on the impact of the internet on society. Those with positive views most often say it is because the internet makes information much easier and faster to access (62%) or that it gives people the ability to connect with others or keep more closely in touch with family and friends (23%).
Those who were less positive offer a wider range of reasons. No single issue stands out. Some 25% of those who gave less-positive answers argued that the internet isolates people and encourages users to spend too much time with devices. Some 16% said the prevalence of fake news or false information was the reason for their belief that the internet was having a negative impact; 14% cited the effect of the internet on children, and 13% argued that it encouraged illegal activity. Just 5% expressed privacy concerns or worries about sensitive information being available online.
The new survey also shows that 20% of adults are “smartphone only” – that is, they have a smartphone but not a home broadband connection. That represents a 7-point increase from 2015. The groups that are most likely to be smartphone only include Hispanics (35%), those in households earning less than $30,000 (31%), those ages 18 to 29 (28%) and blacks (24%).
The study, perhaps deeply flawed because it was conducted in January before the most recent congressional hearings on Facebook’s use of personal data, found that most Americans (88%) think the internet has been mostly a good thing for them – largely unchanged since the last time the Center asked the question in early 2014. The number of people who say the impact of the internet on society has been negative has also remained largely unchanged: 15% said this in 2014 and 14% say it today.
“Overall, most Americans believe the internet has been good for them and a majority still say the internet has had a positive impact on society. However, the share of Americans with mixed feelings is growing,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew. “The shift away from positive views about the internet is particularly noteworthy among Americans 65 and older.”
Among the Findings:
College graduates are more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment (81% to 65% respectively) to say the internet has had a positive impact on society.
- Younger adults have remained consistently positive about the internet’s impact on society, with 74% saying it has had a positive effect compared with 79% in 2014.
- Trends in “smartphone only” usage have continued, with those living in lower-income households being more than three times as likely to be smartphone only than those in more affluent households (31% of households with an income of less than $30,000 per year, versus 9% of households with an income of $75,000 or more per year).
- Some 65% of adults have broadband at home, a figure that is statistically like the share of the population with home broadband in 2015 (67%).