Poll shows more than half of internet users are afraid of expressing their opinions online

Image3A new poll has highlighted that a worryingly high number of internet users have a lack of confidence in the ability to speak freely online without threat of censorship or surveillance

We have been concerned about lack of confidence that internet users have in their privacy and freedom of expression for some time, with our own 2013 Global Attitudes to Privacy Online Survey highlighting that 79% globally said they were concerned about their privacy online.

A survey conducted by BBC World Service, as part of the BBC’s Freedom Live initiative, polled internet users in 17 countries and found that 52% of participants disagree with the statement that “the internet is a safe place to express my opinions”. The survey also highlighted that confidence that the media in their country has the freedom to report accurately has fallen by 19% since 2007.

This comes at a time when Turkey has attempted to ban YouTube and Twitter, after its government claimed that the sites were spreading anti-government propaganda. Despite a court ruling, the Twitter ban has yet to be lifted. Yet, what is clear is that many Turks were able to circumvent the ban and traffic actually increased to the sites.

It is also unsurprising that the survey also highlighted that one in three people do not feel free from government surveillance, with US citizens the most likely to be concerned due to the aftermath of the NSA scandal.

This poll highlights that significant damage is being done to the founding principle of the internet; that it would be a free and fair space for everyone to express their views. It is little wonder that the creator of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has said that he wants to see an online bill of rights created in order to make the internet a safer and fairer place.

At a time of international tension about how to police the internet, and with several far from democratic states looking to introduce their own monitoring, it seems that supposedly democratic states’ actions risk setting a dangerous precedent. It is time that democratic countries take responsibility for the damage being caused to internet freedom rather than helping to perpetuate it.