Researching risks for Internet freedom in Ukraine

NGO Internews Ukraine conducted the expert survey titled “Internet Freedom in Time of Military Conflict.” The study aimed to find out potential risks regarding free users’ access to the net and to figure out if the military conflict on Donbass affects journalists and bloggers in Ukraine.

In period of Dec, 12, 2016 – Jan 12, 2017, Internews Ukraine’s experts interviewed 100 targeted respondents from Ukraine. The survey was conducted within “The Internet Freedom in Ukraine Project” funded by MATRA.

The target audience of the survey included respondents representing three key groups: media community (journalists and editors), human rights activists and IT community.

14 questions formed the survey. 10 questions required detailed responses from respondents, three aimed to get demographic data and one – reflected access to personal data of respondents.

To conduct the survey the project team set up a database of 240 respondents, representing three target groups. Questions were formed and published online via Google Form: https://goo.gl/6XIQjd. The link to survey was directly sent to respondents by email or via Facebook Messanger. The link to survey was not published in public.

The key survey findings are bellow:

1. Minor deterioration of net freedom in Ukraine is possible

Most respondents (57%) believe that the risk of deterioration of Internet freedom in Ukraine exist, but it is minor. Another 23% of responders believe that the risk is high.

2. Respondents aware of manipulations by politicians, pressure on providers (ISP) and blocking*
The respondents are familiar with the following types of of Internet freedom violations:
– pro-governmental manipulations in online discussions (56%)
– the pressure on Internet service providers (ISP) (49%)
– actions to block content (49%)

3. Manipulations and blocking content online anticipated*
Respondents expect the following violations may occur in Ukraine in the upcoming two years:
– pro-governmental manipulation in online discussions and content blocking (65%)
– legislative initiatives to restrict Internet freedom (59%)
– the pressure on ISPs (52%)

4. No significant progress in net freedom in 2016
The majority of respondents (55%) see insignificant improvement in the situation with the freedom of Internet as of 2016. However, 40% said that the situation worsened. Only 4% of responders believe the situation with the net freedom improved in 2016.

5. Security Service and the Interior Ministry seen as key government agencies imposing restrictions of Internet *
Respondents named the Security Service of Ukraine (77%) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs (59%) as the top-government institutions that might impose limitations on Internet development.

6. Some restrictions possible as a response to security risks
A considerable part of respondents is sensitive to the issue of security during the conflict. Thus, 43% mentioned that they accept some limitations of Internet freedom under the notion of security risks for country. However, 35% believe that restrictions should not be imposed by any means.

7. Rules for journalists in conflct zone required
41% of respondents accept regulations for journalists during the military conflict. However, 32% of responders denies any regulations by the government.

8. Bloggers should take into account risks for military personnel.
Addressing the fictitious situation “a blogger from Kramatorsk spotted the transportation of military convoy, took photos and published them on Facebook. In a response, Security Service of Ukraine forced the blogger to delete the post”.


58% of respondents believe that in the situation with the blogger the SSU exceeded its powers, but the blogger should have avoided publishing such sensitive information. Only 8% indicates the wrongfulness of SSU actions and acknowledge unconditional blogger’s right to publish content.

Findings

Free access to Internet is seen as inalienable right of millions of Ukrainian citizens. In 2016, the situation with the freedom of the Internet in Ukraine has not improved, but survey respondents say the risks of deterioration in 2017 exist. The biggest risks as respondents mention are the following: pro-government manipulation in online discussions (using trolls and bots), and limitation of access to content. Also, respondents mentioned the risk of Internet regulation by law.

Military conflict in Donbas restricts the free development of the Internet in Ukraine because of the self-regulation and self-censorship in the media sector. A significant number of experts (43%) accept certain restrictions on freedom of Internet users to provide security. At the same time, more than one-third (35%) of survey respondents denies any restrictions to Internet freedom.

The survey was conducted within “Internet freedom in Ukraine, supporting the principles of freedom of expression and security in times of conflict” by MATRA program of the Dutch government, implemented by NGO “Internews Ukraine”. Find more at: http://netfreedom.org.ua/

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