by Margaret Weigel, The Journalist's Resource January 25, 2012
Nations around the globe have a wide variety of policies toward the Internet. Many allow essentially unrestricted access. Others have strict laws that hold sites accountable for content and publication of personal information. Some filter or block sites. To date, there has been limited research comparing online practices around the world and individuals' preferences about Internet laws and regulations.
A 2011 study from the INSEAD business school and the Oxford Internet Institute published by the World Economic Forum, “The New Internet World: A Global Perspective on Freedom of Expression, Privacy, Trust and Security Online,” explored the Internet attitudes and behaviors of more than 5,400 respondents in 13 countries. The online survey captured opinions on four major themes: freedom of expression, privacy, trust and security.
Key study findings include:
Internet users around the world shared similar attitudes on the four study areas of inquiry: “The rise of ubiquitous technology and the global networked society appears to have created a global Internet culture, where users worldwide now generally share many of the same perspectives, concerns, and attitudes towards the Internet and new technology.”
There was a range of opinion on Internet regulation, with an average of 42% of respondents supporting government regulation, 26% disagreeing, and 28% neither agreeing nor disagreeing. Users in India (66%), China (49%) and the United Kingdom (47%) showed relatively stronger support for government regulation of the Internet, while those in Spain (31%) and the United State (32%) were less favorable. Approximately 59% of all respondents thought that government “should censor online content to protect children.”
Approximately 55% of all respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the importance of protecting freedom of expression and privacy online; however, less than 50% believed that the Internet was a safe place to express opinions and 30% were uncertain.
Countries with lower rates of Internet diffusion and less experienced users (such as Mexico, India and South Africa) were generally more optimistic about online engagement. Countries with a longer history of Internet connectivity (such as Europe and the United States) were less so: “This highlights the enthusiasm and maybe the felt need for the Internet in countries where access is limited and not available to all.”
While a majority of respondents supported online freedom of expression, only 21% had generated and shared content and 45% had never done so. The most common type of content sharing was updating an online profile (29%).
Most respondents (85%) were somewhat or very concerned about fraudulent or misleading information online; concerns were higher in the less-connected and, on average, less Internet-savvy countries of South Africa (68%), India (67%) and Mexico (61%).
The researchers concluded: “When it comes to core Internet values, users generally want it all.... This presents a challenge to other Internet stakeholders, such as governments, policymakers, the private sector and civil society. How they will manage the online environment will depend greatly on how well they are able to juggle users’ expectations of an open and free, yet safe and trustworthy, Internet.”