A majority of Americans say they are concerned that voters will base their decisions in the upcoming midterm elections based on false or misleading information, but only a fraction of them think it will happen to them, according to a new Knight Foundation and Ipsos poll.

Researchers say the findings suggest that while Americans are now widely grappling with the potential threats posed by online disinformation in U.S. elections, they may be overconfident in their ability to thwart it individually.

According to the study, 61% of those surveyed are "somewhat" or "very" concerned that people in their community will make a decision on how to vote based on misleading information they see on social media, while 58% think people will be fooled by phony news.

But when asked about their own chances of being swayed or tricked by false or misleading information, the percentage of respondents who voiced concern dropped to 1 in 4.

"We all seem to be overestimating our abilities to navigate a fractured media landscape right now, and to me that should be a big concern," said John Sands, senior director for media and democracy at the Knight Foundation.

He added, "To me, it almost says more about the respondents than it does about the respondents' friends and neighbors."

Researchers also found a "high level of agreement" within the public that false election information on social media poses a problem, including among a majority of both Democrats and Republicans.

Seventy-six percent of Americans said they think false election information is a problem; 88% of Democrats, 71% of Republicans and 70% of independents concurred.

"This election cycle, it seems like Americans have connected the dots between the quality of the information they consume online and the resilience of our democracy," Sands said. "To me, that's something that jumps off the page - that people recognize the dangers to democracy posed by harmful content online."

But partisan differences were more pronounced when respondents were asked what specific types of election disinformation should be restricted.

While a significant majority of Democrats and Republicans said tech companies should restrict blatant attempts to mislead voters, including by providing incorrect balloting information, support among Republicans was more muted for restricting unsubstantiated election fraud claims or content that "influences how someone perceives their safety on election day."

Eighty-nine percent of Democrats said social media should restrict unfounded election fraud claims, and 76% said the platforms should limit content related to election safety, while support for such restrictions among Republicans was 54% and 49%, respectively.

"This to me tracks with some of our previous polling … which shows that Republicans, while they're still concerned about these issues, they don't exhibit the same degree of concern or same urgency of concern around them as Democrats," Sands said.

One area Americans largely agreed on: The government should stay away from regulating social media with the aim of minimizing election misinformation.

According to the survey, only 1 in 3 people said they favored government regulation of social media companies to curb election misinformation, while higher rates of respondents - 50% and 49%, respectively - called for individuals to take on more personal responsibility for the spread of misinformation and for companies to more aggressively police false content.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 14 to 16 and surveyed 1,024 Americans 18 and older.


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