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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    Clinton, Sanders Fight for African American Votes

    Some African American lawmakers lining up to support Clinton in face of perceived surge by Sanders in race for Democratic nomination in presidential campaign

    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.
    NATO to Target Migrant Smugglersi
    X
    Jeff Custer
    February 11, 2016 4:35 PM
    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.