News / Science & Technology

Distrust the Internet? You're Not Alone

FILE - An image of Steve Jobs looks over the shoulder of computer workers in Kochi, India
FILE - An image of Steve Jobs looks over the shoulder of computer workers in Kochi, India
A new global public opinion survey suggests that just over half of people polled across the world believe that the Internet is not a safe place to express their individual opinions.

The poll, conducted by the firm GlobeScan for the BBC World Service, spanned 17,000 individuals in 17 nations on every continent; among them Peru, Nigeria, China, and the United States.

The survey contained several results that may seem surprising or even contradictory, pollsters say.

For example, while 52 percent disagreed with the statement "the Internet is a safe place to express my opinions," 67 percent agreed that "the Internet gives me greater freedom."

Among nations where survey respondents were most distrustful of the Internet were Canada and the U.S. (both 65 percent), France (76 percent and South Korea (72 percent) - all nations that have relatively wide and unfiltered Internet access.

"The country distribution where views today are most negative has us conclude that the widely-covered Snowden allegations of online U.S, government surveillance has affected the perceived safety of the Internet," GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller said in an interview with VOA.

GlobeScan has been conducting the survey for the past seven years. It asks for respondent opinions on seven general areas of freedom, including public speech, religious practice, freedom to marry and government surveillance.

In his executive summary, Miller wrote that some of the trends - notably on measure of distrust of the media - are headed in a troubling direction. 

"The finding that majorities of Americans and Germans do not feel free from government surveillance (well ahead of any of the other 17 nationalities) is particularly stark, and again suggests that the Snowden allegations have had a strong influence on the Internet-related findings of the poll," Miller said.

"The fact that some of those same countries express fairly positive views of the Internet contributing to their freedom is not inconsistent in that there are social freedoms (via social networks) and economic freedoms (via online shopping) that the Internet provides people," he said.

One of the more surprising results was that nations like Canada, U.S., France and South Korea rated poorly on the Internet being a safe place to express opinions.

Also surprising was that 76 percent - the highest rate of any nation - of Chinese responders felt they were free from any government surveillance or monitoring.

Notably troubling for Miller was the seven-year slide in overall perceptions of freedoms of the press and media.

"The drop of a third (from 59 to 40 percent) over seven years in the percentage believing they have a free and unbiased national media is indeed cause for concern," he said.

"But the question wording is important here; its not only asking about a free press, as in lack of government interference, it is asking about an unbiased press as well," Miller said.

"Given the increasingly polarized media in many of the countries, it may well be this aspect that today leads people to rate the media poorly," he added.

Overall, Miller said that although people still remain distrustful of the Internet in some measures, it also continues to be seen as a "positive force" for freedom in the 17 nations polled.

But the pollster warns that opinions do change, and the Internet could also become something seen as limiting, rather than expanding freedom.

"It is the Internet's role in fostering and renewing democracy that is perhaps in jeopardy if people continue to believe it is an unsafe place to express their views, either because of government surveillance or cyber bullying by those with other views," Miller said.

"Both media and Internet organizations should be very concerned with the poll's findings," he said.

The entire survey results can be found here.

Doug Bernard

dbjohnson+voanews.com

Doug Bernard covers cyber-issues for VOA, focusing on Internet privacy, security and censorship circumvention. Previously he edited VOA’s “Digital Frontiers” blog, produced the “Daily Download” webcast and hosted “Talk to America”, for which he won the International Presenter of the Year award from the Association for International Broadcasting. He began his career at Michigan Public Radio, and has contributed to "The New York Times," the "Christian Science Monitor," SPIN and NPR, among others. You can follow him @dfrontiers.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Researcher: Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor at Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome says problem involves more than calorie intake, warns of worldwide health impact More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Mark from: Virginia
April 09, 2014 7:54 AM
before the internet, there was the newspaper and magazine. There was television and radio. All those mediums of information are governed by the opinions and ideals of the very few; ie. the editors. With the advent of the internet, focus of those mediums of information transitioned over to the World Wide Web, and are STILL governed by the opinions and ideals of editors. It is nothing more than a new form of medium for those existing organizations.

Adding fuel to the fire is the ability of individuals not involved with magazine, television, radio and newsprint to express their own opinions and any subject, often contradicting each other and the established outlets of information. It's a muddle out there, always has been, always will be. The internet can be a tool or a weapon. I have lived the bulk of my life without it, and while I find it useful at times, I maintain a grain of salt when perusing the contents of information offered on the internet.

And, while it is a wide open fertile area for humanity to express themselves, caution must be maintained that it is not used to deceive and destroy. It is also a field ripe for eavesdropping and surveillance. As the expression used to be said.... Big Brother is Watching You. Do I use the internet, yes. Do I find it useful, yes. Do I trust it, no.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thoughti
X
George Putic
May 26, 2015 9:26 PM
Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.

VOA Blogs