Press release №2333
29.04.2021
SOCIAL MEDIA AND CENSORSHIP: PRO ET CONTRA

IN BRIEF

  • 51% of respondents agree that unreliable information should be blocked (10% oppose them)
  • Russians consider it inappropriate to block accounts of users on social media (51%).

March 16, 2021. The information presented below illustrates results of a survey on social media censorship and the Russian opinions on the topic.

Most of Russians use different social media and messenger apps: WhatsApp (70%; mainly those aged 25-44 — 77%), Vkontakte (50%; often young respondents aged 18-25 — 72-74%), YouTube (40%; 56% of the 18-24-year-olds), Instagram (38%) and Odnoklassniki (37%).

Unreliable information on social media

Half of Russians believe that you can always or almost always determine if information on the Internet is trustworthy or not. This opinion is shared by young Russians aged 18-24 (78%) and the 25-34-year-olds (62%).

Half of respondents consider that any unreliable information on the Internet should be blocked (51%). This stance is often supported by those who use the Internet occasionally or never use it (65%). A quarter of respondents believe that it is important to block only unreliable information that poses a serious threat (23%); a further 14% think that even potentially harmful information must be blocked.

Almost half of Russians find it difficult to assess the policies related to the control over reliability of information on the Internet (48%). Twenty-nine percent of Russians agree with these policies; 19% disagree; often active Internet users (24%).

Blocking social media accounts

Russians consider it inappropriate to block accounts of users before judgement (51%); this opinion is popular with people living in the metropolitan area (61%) and million-plus cities (58%). Thirty-eight percent of respondents think it is appropriate.

Seventy percent of Russians have heard or are aware that Facebook and Twitter blocked and deleted accounts of certain Russian organizations and users: often men report so (75%). They cited several famous figures whose accounts were blocked by Twitter or Facebook; those persons are D.Trump (11%), A. Navalny (3%) and V. Solovyov (3%).

As to the reasons why certain Russian accounts or posts were deleted, those respondents who are aware of that point out dissemination of unreliable and false information (9%), political reasons (9%) or uncomfortable character of information (6%).

More than half of Russians believe that blocking accounts is acceptable if information posted is provocative or unreliable (52%); this opinion is often expressed by active Internet users (56%).

Is it censorship, and how to tackle it?  

Forty-nine percent of respondents view such blocks as censorship by social media networks. This opinion is popular among Russians aged 45-59 (56%). Twenty-nine percent of Russians do not view it as censorship - often young respondents aged 18-24 (57%).

The Russian government should take measures to tackle censorship, according to 70% of those who consider the blocks censorship. This opinion is often expressed by respondents aged 60 and older (78%). Twenty-six percent of Russians think nothing should be done.

Those who think that certain actions are needed propose the following options: to block accounts in response (8%), to introduce penalties (6%), to block websites (6%), to slow down their performance (5%), or to create alternatives (4%).

Russian nationwide VCIOM-Sputnik survey was conducted on March 11, 2021. A total of 1,600 of Russians aged 18 and older took part in the survey. Results are based on telephone interviews. Stratified dual-frame random sample based on a complete list of Russian landline and mobile phone numbers was used. The data were weighted according to selection probability and social and demographic characteristics. The margin of error at a 95% confidence level does not exceed 2.5%. In addition to sampling error, minor changes to the wording of questions and different circumstances arising during the fieldwork can introduce bias into the survey.

Let us talk about social media and messengers. Do you use the following social media, messengers? If so, what social media do you use? Cite those social media networks and messengers that you use, please.  (closed-ended question, any number of answers, % of those who use the Internet)
  Total respondents Men Women Aged 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 60 +
WhatsApp 70 67 73 72 77 77 67 58
Vkontakte 50 49 51 74 72 55 32 31
YouTube 40 45 35 56 43 40 37 31
Instagram 38 29 45 61 57 44 23 16
Odnoklassniki 37 30 42 2 30 41 45 46
Viber 36 30 41 25 42 41 37 29
Telegram 27 30 26 60 36 32 17 10
TikTok 17 16 18 39 19 16 12 10
Facebook 14 14 14 13 15 17 11 13
Twitter 6 8 5 13 9 7 4 4
I do not use social media, messengers  5 7 3 2 1 3 7 10
LiveJournal 1 2 1 0 1 2 3 1
Other   5 5 4 2 4 3 6 8
Don’t know 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0

 

In your opinion, is it possible to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information on the Internet, social media, or not? (closed-ended question, one answer, % of total respondents)
  Total respondents Men Women Aged 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 60 +
Almost always possible 8 10 7 21 9 8 6 6
Possible in most cases 44 45 43 57 53 45 43 34
Impossible to distinguish in most cases 28 26 30 10 24 32 33 29
Almost always impossible to distinguish 12 12 11 9 9 10 13 15
Don’t know 8 7 9 3 5 5 5 16

In your opinion, should dissemination of reliable information on the Internet and social media be restricted, or not? If yes, to what extent should it be restricted? (closed-ended question, one answer, % of total respondents)
  Total respondents Those who use the Internet almost every day Those who use the Internet several times a week, several times a month Those who use the Internet occasionally or never use it
It is necessary to block only unreliable information that poses a serious threat to society 23 24 18 19
It is necessary to block even unreliable information that possibly poses a threat to society 14 15 13 8
It is necessary to block  any unreliable information 51 47 58 65
It should not be restricted 10 11 8 3
Other   1 1 1 1
Don’t know 1 2 2 4

In your opinion, is it acceptable or unacceptable to block accounts (or users’ personal profiles) on social media without recourse to courts? (closed-ended question, one answer, % of total respondents)
  Total respondents Moscow and St Petersburg Million-plus cities 500-950 thousand inhabitants 100–500 thousand inhabitants Less than 100 thousand Rural area
Definitely yes 14 10 11 10 14 18 15
Rather yes 24 22 22 24 26 22 27
Rather no 22 24 21 26 21 22 18
Definitely no 29 37 37 29 30 27 25
Don’t know 11 7 9 11 9 11 15
Are you likely to favor or oppose government policies aimed to control reliability of information on the Internet, social media, to combat false information? If you know nothing about it, let us know. (closed-ended question, one answer, % of total respondents)
  Total respondents Those who use the Internet almost every day Those who use the Internet several times a week, several times a month Those who use the Internet occasionally or never use it
Definitely yes 13 12 14 20
Rather yes 16 17 22 12
Rather no 9 11 8 2
Definitely no 10 13 2 3
I know nothing about the government policies in this field 48 45 51 61
Don’t know 4 2 3 2
Do you know, did you hear or do you hear for the first time that Facebook and Twitter delete publications and block accounts of certain Russian users and organizations on social media?  (closed-ended question, one answer, % of total respondents)
  Total respondents Men Women Aged 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 60 +
I am well aware 17 23 11 28 18 14 17 14
I heard something but I do not know any details 53 52 53 40 49 60 57 49
This is the first time I hear about that 30 25 36 32 33 26 26 37

                                   

Based on what you know or heard, can you tell us whose accounts (famous people and organizations) have been recently blocked by Twitter or Facebook? Cite, please, three names or titles of organizations. (open-ended question, up to 5 answers, % of those who “know, heard”; answers of at least 2% of respondents)  
  Total respondents
Trump 11
Navalny 3
Solovyov 3
Government / state bodies / accounts of public figures / civil servants 2
Russia Today 2
Other 11
Don’t know /No idea 76
In your opinion, why did Facebook and Twitter delete publications/block accounts of the Russian users and organizations on social media? You can give several reasons. (open-ended question, up to 3 answers, % of those who “know, heard”; answers of at least 2% of respondents)
  Total respondents
Because of unreliable, false information 9
Reasons related to politics  9
Uncomfortable information 6
They are afraid of the truth Russia is telling about 5
Propaganda / terrorist propaganda 4
Violation of terms of use / publication did not comply with the social media posting guidelines   4
Censorship 4
Calls to extremism / rallies / riots 4
Information not beneficial to the Russian government  / eroding the foundations 4
Information contradicts the interests of another state / certain viewpoint being imposed/ only their opinion is acceptable 3
Anti-Russian campaign / war against Russia / cold war 2
Safety reasons / publications could be harmful 2
These media are run by the U.S.  / private organizations / they block what they want 2
They execute orders from above 2
They do not like Russia/are afraid of us 2
They follow the U.S. directions 2
It was profitable to someone 2
Dissemination of sexually explicit material 2
Because of sanctions 2
Other 10
Don’t know /No idea 38
Recently Twitter and Facebook have locked accounts of certain Russian media outlets, journalists, public officials, businessmen without giving reasons. Do you consider it acceptable or inacceptable to lock the accounts of the Russian users and organizations? (closed-ended question, one answer, % of total respondents)
  Total respondents Those who use the Internet almost every day Those who use the Internet several times a week, several times a month Those who use the Internet occasionally or never use it
Acceptable in most cases 4 4 1 5
Acceptable in certain cases, for example, when posting  something provocative  or untrustworthy 52 56 51 35
Inacceptable in any case 32 32 27 36
Don’t know 12 8 21 24
In your opinion, should the suspension of the accounts of the Russians users and organizations be viewed as censorship by Facebook and Twitter, or not? (closed-ended question, one answer, % of total respondents)
  Total respondents Men Women Aged 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 60 +
Yes, it is censorship 49 52 46 35 43 49 56 50
No, it is not censorship 29 31 28 57 36 34 21 21
Don’t know 22 17 26 8 21 17 23 29

 

In your opinion, should the Russian government do anything to combat Facebook and Twitter censorship, or not? (closed-ended question, one answer, % of those who think “it is censorship”)
  Total respondents Men Women Aged 18-24 25-34 35-44 45-59 60 +
Definitely yes 33 40 26 11 22 28 31 49
Rather yes 37 29 44 43 38 38 41 29
Rather no 17 16 18 29 27 17 16 9
Definitely no 9 11 7 16 10 12 7 6
Don’t know 4 4 5 1 3 5 5 7

 

In your opinion, what exactly should the Russian government do to combat Facebook and Twitter censorship? Several answers are possible (open-ended question, up to 5 answers, % of those who think that “it should”; answers of at least 2% of respondents)
  Total respondents
To block / block in response / block their accounts 8
Penalties 6
To block websites 6
To slow down the performance/traffic 5
To create  alternative social media 4
To restrict the performance 3
To block the banned /unreliable content 3
To introduce specific regulations 2
To litigate it in the court/to act according to the legislation 2
To control 2
To create Russia’s own independent Internet 2
Other 16
Don’t know 57

 

  Results of our study
  Ratings
  In focus
  News