More and more people are becoming active and discussing politics online – but fear of online hate speech is silencing many of us.
71 percent of Swedes turn to the internet for political information, one in five people have expressed a political opinion online and 15 percent have participated in a hashtag campaign like #metoo in the past year. These are the findings in the Internet Foundation In Sweden’s new report, ”Swedes and the Internet – Valspecial 2018”. At the same time, the report also shows that a quarter of Swedes have refrained from expressing a political opinion on the Internet due to the fear of hate speech and threats.
– The internet is becoming an increasingly important arena for political engagement and discussion. At the same time, the report reveals that online hate speech silences many people, preventing them from expressing their political views, which is troubling. We need more voices in the democratic dialogue, not less, says Björn Appelgren, project manager at The Swedish Internet Foundation In Sweden.
In the run-up to the 2018 parliamentary elections, more Swedes than ever will turn to the Internet for political information. The trend is particularly evident amongst first-time voters, a group that values websites as one of the most important sources of information prior to the election.
– First-time voters stand out and show us where we are heading. They have a much more positive view of the democratic potential of the Internet, place a higher value on digital information sources and are also significantly more politically active on the internet, says Björn Appelgren, project manager at The Swedish Internet Foundation.
TV still ranked as the most important source of information
Among Swedes, TV is still perceived as the most important source of information prior to the election. 73 percent of Swedes consider TV as important or very important. Other traditional media sources such as newspapers and radio also come in high on the list — around 55 percent—along with friends, family and newspaper websites. 41 percent say that websites are important or very important sources of information. Amongst social media sites, Facebook is considered the most important (19%), Twitter comes in second (12%), with YouTube ranking third (9%).
First-time voters value information sources differently than others. TV is still at the top of the list, however, it is clear that they place a higher value on digital information sources than other Swedes. Two-thirds —66 percent— report that websites are important or very important. They also value daily newspaper websites more than traditional newspapers and value social media much higher than other voters as a source of information prior to the election. For example, at 34 percent, twice as many first-time voters consider Facebook to be important. Almost three times as many first-time voters consider Twitter to be important, and the difference is greatest for YouTube. At 28 percent, four times as many first-time voters consider YouTube to be important.
The internet as an arena for political engagement
How well does the internet function as an arena for political engagement and discussion? Swedes paint a mixed picture.
- Half of Swedes believe that the internet makes it easier for more people to participate and get involved in politics. At two out of three (67%), this figure is higher amongst first-time voters.
- One in five Swedish internet users have expressed political opinions online in the last year, the previous election had a corresponding figure of 13 percent. Amongst first-time voters, almost a third (29%) reported expressing a political opinion online.
- The findings reveal it is more common to discuss politics online with like-minded people (23%) than with those who do not share one’s political opinions (16%).
- 15 percent of respondents report that they have participated in a hashtag campaign like #Metoo in the past year. Three times more women than men have participated. Most participants are in the group of women aged 26-35 years, where 36 percent report that they have participated.
- 14 percent of Internet users state that they have been subjected to online hate speech or that someone has made negative comments about them. Younger people and people who have expressed political opinions are over-represented in this group. In the 16-25-year age group, 33 percent have been subjected. The corresponding figure amongst those who have expressed apolitical opinion is 61 percent.
- More people oppose a person’s right to express extreme opinions online (48%) than support that right (24%). Compared with the 2010 and 2014 election years, this is the first time that more people oppose this right than support it. Older people have a more negative view regarding the expression of extreme views online than younger people do.
- Swedes more critical of online information
- Confidence in online information is waning. 40 percent of Swedes consider that ”most” online information is reliable, compared to 44 percent in 2017. Younger Swedes are significantly more sceptical than older Swedes. It is also younger Swedes who are more likely to have received education in information evaluation.
- A majority of Swedes, (55%), believe that they can judge whether information on the internet is true or false. That figure is higher amongst younger Swedes.
The majority of Swedes would like to have the opportunity to vote online.
- 51 percent of Swedes say that they would like the opportunity to vote online. The interest in this option is greater amongst those who state that they are not interested in politics than those who state that they are.