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Media (R)evolutions: As Internet access expands, demand for freedom of expression online also increases

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

Despite a widely documented global decline in Internet freedom, people around the world still embrace fundamental democratic values, including the right to free speech.

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that majorities in 32 of 38 countries polled state it is important to live in a country where people can use the internet without government censorship. Pew interviewed 40,786 people between April 5 - May 21, 2015 and found that even though internet freedom ranks last among the six broad democratic rights included on the survey, a median of 50% believe it is very important to live in a country with an uncensored internet. The strongest support for internet freedom is found in Argentina, the U.S., Germany and Spain, where about 70% of the populations consider it very important, and it the lowest support can be found in Burkina Faso and Indonesia, where only 21% in both countries think it’s important.  

There is a strong correlation between the percentage of people in a country who use the internet and the percentage who say a free internet is very important, demonstrating that as people gain access to the Web, the salience and desire for freedom in cyberspace also grows.
Global Support for Principles of Free Expression
Publics with Higher Rates of Internet Usage More Likely to Prioritize Internet Freedom

In many nations the internet has created an important public space for the discussion of political and social issues. However, how the internet is organized and managed is a topic of debate in itself. At the Second World Internet Conference, currently being held in Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, China from December 16-18, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for international respect for each country's “cyber sovereignty” and said there should be no Internet hegemony. Other debates about net neutrality have continued in the United States, the "right to be forgotten" rules in Europe, and regarding legislation to filter, block, or criminalize social media content in several countries across Africa.

Support for internet speech mirrors to some degree the support publics have for freedom of speech generally.  Majorities in nearly all 38 nations polled said it is at least somewhat important to live in a country with free speech, a free press and freedom on the internet. Moreover, across these countries, 50% or more consider these freedoms very important.

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