Most American adults can correctly identify a secure password. Far fewer people can recognize an example of two-factor authentication
The Pew Research Center conducted this study to understand Americans’ knowledge on various digital topics. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,101 U.S. adults from May 15 to 21, 2023. All survey respondents are members of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited by national random sampling. of residential addresses. This way, almost every American adult has a chance of being selected. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Learn more about the The ATP methodology.
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Digital culture is widely considered an essential skill. But Americans’ understanding of digital topics varies widely across topics. For example, the majority of American adults know what cookies do on websites and can identify a secure password. Far fewer people may recognize an example of two-factor authentication – a cybersecurity practice that makes logging into online accounts more secure.
Moreover, much larger shares know Elon Musk led Tesla and Twitter in April 2023 than understanding the technology behind ChatGPT. (Twitter was recently renamed to in July 2023, after the survey is completed.)
What is a median?
Throughout this report, median scores are used to help readers visualize overall trends. The median score is the middle number in a list of all scores ordered from highest to lowest.
Overall, Americans correctly answer five out of nine questions in a Pew Research Center digital literacy survey of 5,101 U.S. adults May 15-21, 2023. The questions cover a wide range topics including cybersecurity practices, facts about big tech companies, artificial intelligence, and federal online privacy laws.
About 26% of American adults can accurately answer at least seven of the nine questions, but only 4% can answer all nine questions correctly. And as it was in previous surveys on digital knowledge carried out by the Center, the public’s understanding of digital issues differs depending on age and level of education. (Refer to Annex for breaks related to race, ethnicity, and gender.)
How Americans’ digital literacy varies by subject
- 87% of U.S. adults can correctly identify which password – out of four choices – is the most secure option.
- 67% know that the purpose of cookies is to track visits and activity on a website.
- 48% can correctly identify an example of two-factor authentication from a series of images.
Big tech companies
- 80% know that Elon Musk was running Tesla and Twitter in April 2023.
- 77% know that Facebook changed their company name to Meta.
- 42% know that a deepfake is a seemingly real image, video or audio of something that did not happen.
- 32% know that large language models, such as ChatGPT, produce responses based on word patterns and relationships that they previously learned from texts retrieved from the Internet.
Federal Privacy Laws
Yet Americans recognize that they don’t know the answers to some of these questions. When it comes to artificial intelligence, similar shares say they don’t know how large language models work (53%) or what a deepfake is (50%).
Uncertainty is also common when it comes to privacy laws: 52% of adults are unsure whether the United States has a national online privacy law. And 40% are unsure of the age below which minors are protected from websites collecting their data without parental consent.
How Americans’ digital literacy varies by education level
Americans’ digital literacy differs significantly by education level.
Adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree answer an average of six out of nine questions correctly. Those with a college education accurately answer an average of five questions. And those with a high school diploma or less answer an average of four questions correctly.
Differences in education appear in the nine questions asked in the survey.
For example, college graduates particularly stand out as being more likely to know the answer to each of the following questions than those with a high school education or less:
- 64% of college graduates can correctly identify an example of two-factor authentication, compared to 31% of those with a high school diploma or less.
- 82% of college graduates know that cookies track user visits and activity on websites. Half of Americans with a high school diploma or less know this.
- 49% of college graduates know how large language models, like ChatGPT, create responses, compared to 17% of those with a high school diploma or less.
- 57% of college graduates can correctly define what a deepfake is, compared to 28% of those with a high school diploma or less.
Although double-digit educational differences are still observed, the majority of American adults – regardless of their level of formal education – know which companies Elon Musk ran in April 2023, that Facebook changed its name to Meta and what word of pass (among four listed) is used. the most secure.
Educational differences are less pronounced when it comes to knowledge of federal legislation. For example, few Americans – regardless of education level – are aware of the federal protections put in place to protect children’s privacy online.
How Americans’ digital literacy varies by age
Age differences in Americans’ digital literacy vary widely by subject. The trends seen across age groups are not always consistent, but adults under 50 generally fare better than those 50 and older.
Adults aged 18 to 29 answer an average of six questions correctly. This number drops to 5 among those aged 30 to 49 and to 4 among those aged 50 to 64 and those 65 and over.
The most pronounced age differences appear when Americans are asked about two-factor authentication, deepfakes, and large language models:
- 68% of adults under 30 can identify an example of two-factor authentication, compared to 26% of those 65 and older.
- 60% of Americans under 30 know what a deepfake is, compared to 24% of those 65 and over.
- 45% of those under 30 know how major linguistic models work, compared to 15% of those aged 65 and over.
But these differences are more modest on other questions. Similar shares of older and younger Americans know that the United States does not have a comprehensive digital privacy law. And clear majorities across all age groups can correctly identify an example of the most secure password and know that Musk was running Tesla and Twitter in April 2023.