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Study on Russian Internet Attitudes Causes Media Stir

Nearly 50% of Russians support online censorship and trust their government and intelligence services to regulate the Web, study finds.

The report, Benchmarking Public Demand: Russia’s Appetite for Internet Control, was produced by Prof. Erik Nisbet with the Center for Global Communication Studies and Russian Public Opinion Research Center. The SecDev Foundation translated the report into Russian to encourage extended distribution.

While the internet had been a bastion of free expression, since 2012 Russian authorities have been imposing ever more restrictive regulations to the country’s online sphere. The regulations are necessary, the authorities say, to protect Russia’s traditional values and political stability. Benchmarking Public Demand “seeks to uncover attitudes and opinions about internet regulation, censorship of online content, and the potential for citizen mobilization and protest.” The report’s findings are “somewhat discouraging,” notes Monroe Price, Director of the CGCS, in his foreword. Some of them include:

  • Nearly half of all Russians believe that information on the Internet needs to be censored;
  • 42% of Russians believe foreign countries are using the Internet against Russia and its interests.
  • 81% expressed a negative sentiment toward calls to protest against the government or for a change in political leadership;
  • Some 42% of Russians trust the Russian government and the Russian security services to regulate the Internet;
  • 51% of Russians believe that the government’s blacklisting of websites is motivated by a concern to maintain political stability, versus 13% who believe the motivation was to limit democratic freedoms.

On the surface, the numbers suggest popular support for Russia’s increasingly restrictive Internet policies. However, this support needs to be understood within the context of the Kremlin’s media and political hegemony inside the country. Kremlin-controlled television remains the most important source of information for 60% of Russians, which translates into considerable power to shape public opinion, including on matters of Internet policy.

Benchmarking Public Demand is accompanied by a reflection piece entitled Welcoming the Dragon: The Role of Public Opinion in Russian Internet Regulation by Gregory Asmolov, an internationally recognized expert on Russia’s Internet.

Russian-language versions of both reports, translated by the Foundation, are available at Digital.Report, a website covering digital developments across post-Soviet Eurasia and bringing together ICT experts from the West and Eurasia.

Russian media have widely covered the reports. Stanislav Budnitsky, a SecDev Foundation analyst and Digital.Report editor, published an op-ed on Forbes Russia online providing an analytical summary of the report. The summary has enjoyed more than 7000 views and 300 social media shares.

Altogether, more than 280 Russian-language publications across Russia and the post-Soviet space have covered the report, including some of the most reputable and popular national media like Kommersant, Vedomosti, RBC, Lenta, Echo of Moscow, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, news wires RIA Novosti, TASS, Interfax, and numerous leading regional outlets.

Download Report in English Download Report in Russian

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