Aussies back free speech online
The survey is part of the World Internet
Project, which monitors developments in
people's use of the web.
Image: iStockphoto

Australians are overwhelmingly in favour of free speech and freedom to criticise their governments on the internet – but equally strongly of a view that children’s content should be restricted.

This is one of the key findings of the latest (2009) national survey of internet use, by a team led by Professor Julian Thomas and Scott Ewing of ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) at Swinburne University’s Institute for Social Research. The survey is part of the World Internet Project (WIP) which monitors developments in the web and people’s use of it.

“We found that Australians are very strongly in favour of being free to express your opinions on the internet, with five in every six respondents holding this view. Four out of five also believe they should be free to criticise government on the internet,” Professor Thomas says.

“So strongly do we uphold this view that a majority (51 per cent) think it is OK to express extreme views on the internet. However 20 per cent disagree with this and 9 per cent disagree strongly.

“And 55 per cent consider Australians should not have to be careful what they say about politics on the internet – although over a quarter say they are worried that the Government may be checking up on them when they go online.

Prof. Thomas says one of the most notable findings of the latest survey, given the current debate on banning of certain websites is that a large majority – 83 per cent – consider that children’s internet content should have restrictions and most believe this responsibility should be shared. Almost all of those in favour of restrictions think parents should take some responsibility while 82% think schools have a role to play. Government and internet service providers are nominated by just under six in ten.

“Against this, one in ten respondents to our survey think there should be very few restrictions on children’s content while only 7 per cent believe there should be no restrictions,” he adds.

Most Australians do not consider the internet is currently over-regulated. Forty-two per cent rate current regulation as ‘about right’, while a further 40 per cent would like to see more control of content. Similarly, 14 per cent want far more regulation and 17 per cent want far less.

Australians are overwhelmingly in favour of having the freedom to criticise their governments on the internet according to the latest survey, says Scott Ewing. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents agree with this, while fewer than one in ten (8%) disagrees.

Beyond this, most people polled do not think the internet will make a lot of difference to politics as it affects them: in particular they are sceptical that it will increase their own influence on politics or on the attitudes of public officials.

“In fact, scepticism has increased somewhat since the previous survey in 2007 and Australia is at the more sceptical end relative to other countries. However they also recognise that the internet is being used much more in political campaigning – even if it may not be enhancing their democratic influence,” Mr Ewing says.

Editor's Note: Original news release can be found here.