Americans Don't Know A Lot About Internet History Or Policy

But they do know a lot about social media

Bill Gates and Sheryl Sandberg
Americans had little trouble identifying one of these people.Robert Scoble/Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Think you know your GIFs from your Gophers? Your IMAP from your bitmap? Your hashtags from your hash browns? In September, the Pew Research Center polled 1,066 American adults on their knowledge of technology and the Internet, with some surprising results.

(Before we spoil the quiz for you, see just how much you know by taking it for yourself.)

The quiz, part of the Pew Research Center's series on the 25th anniversary of the web, contains questions ranging from those of a technical nature—such as what does "URL" stand for—to those of a more cultural bent—like seeing if you identify this picture of a major tech figure. Around half of those polled answered five to seven of the 12 questions correctly. Most knew that Twitter was limited to 140 characters, that PDFs could be sent by any email client, and that a megabyte was bigger than a kilobyte.

But just 23 percent knew the Internet and the World Wide Web are two different entities, and only 9 percent were able to identify the first popular graphical web browser (alas, poor Mosaic!). Moreover, only 21 percent were able to identify a picture of Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg, compared to the 83 percent who could pick out Bill Gates. (Granted, while Sandberg is well known, Gates is the richest man in the world; it also didn't help that they picked an off-angle picture of Sandberg that was harder to identify.)

Unsurprisingly, the younger survey participants scored better than their elders on social media knowledge and common Internet conventions. College graduates tended to do better overall, as Pew admits they do on most knowledge-based quizzes.

Perhaps most distressing was poor performance across the board in matters of policy. More than half of those surveyed said that posting a privacy policy means a company will keep its users' information confidential, and just 61 percent were able to correctly identify what "net neutrality" refers to.

That doesn't seem to bode particularly well for matters that are likely to be hot-button issues in the immediate future of the Internet—but at least people know what a hashtag is.