COLUMBUS, Ohio — Russians who have an affinity for state media and President Vladimir Putin are more likely to support online censorship, a new study finds.
Researchers at Ohio State University analyzed the results of a survey with over 1,600 Russian citizens about a number of topics, including internet and media use, and its perceived risk; attitudes on internet censorship; and support for Putin and his government.
Many who display blind faith toward the propaganda espoused by Moscow essentially censor themselves in an act of compliance, the researchers found.
“This is actually more insidious,” says co-author Erik Nisbet in a university news release. “The government doesn’t have to rely as much on legal or technical firewalls against content they don’t like. They have created a psychological firewall in which people censor themselves.”
Many people avoid certain websites “because the government says it’s bad for me,” Nisbet adds.
Citizens who watch the official government news on television are most likely to see the internet as an imminent threat, they noted.
Ironically, many of these respondents expressed their fears that the internet enabled foreign actors to interfere domestically, particularly as it pertained to the country’s political stability.
This effect was only amplified among Putin supporters.
“Government authorities have convinced many Russians that censoring content labeled as extremist protects the population from harm, while at the same time failing to mention that this label is often applied by authorities to legitimate political opposition or opinions that run counter to government policies,” Olga Kamenchuk, the study’s other co-author explains.
Interestingly, Russians have access to an array of information that opposes the official message of the Kremlin, but “many deliberately choose to ignore these outlets.”
While many studies have looked at media censorship in the United States, few have explored the issue in Russia, prompting the researchers to conduct their inquiry.
This research could serve as further encouragement for the U.S. State Department to continue promoting internet freedom internationally, they argue.
The study’s findings were published in this month’s edition of the journal Social Science Quarterly.