The Big Chill: Indian Netizens Fear Trouble From Authorities for Political Views, Survey Shows

According to a report released by the Reuters Institute, at least 55% of Indians surveyed said they are afraid of expressing their political views on the internet.

New Delhi: A new report from the Reuters Institute looks at how English-language news readers in India are using the internet and consuming the news.

The report says that at least 55% of those surveyed said they are afraid of expressing their political views on the internet as this could “get them into trouble with the authorities”.

The report shows high levels of engagement with the news by Indian users, but this is “accompanied by high levels of concern about the possible consequences of expressing political views on the internet”.

For example, respondents were asked to consider the following three statements:

  • ‘I tend to think carefully about expressing my political views openly on the internet because this could get me into trouble with the authorities.’
  • ‘I tend to think carefully about expressing my political views openly on the internet because this could this could make friends or family think differently about me.’
  • ‘I tend to think carefully expressing my political views openly on the internet because this could make work colleagues or other acquaintances think differently about me.’

These same statements were put to respondents in the United States, Brazil and Turkey as well.

In response to the first statement, the Reuters Institute found that 55% of people felt that expressing their political views openly online could get them “into trouble with authorities”.

Of the respondents, 49% felt their family and friends might judge them for their political opinions and 50% worried about what their colleagues or other acquaintances might think.

These levels of concern in India are “directly comparable to those found in Brazil and in Turkey”. But they are also “significantly higher” than the levels of concern shown by respondents in the US.

The Reuters Institute says that this chilling effect could be related to recent incidents in India where, for example, at least 17 people have been arrested since 2012 for material considered offensive or threatening to a politician. The “offended politicians” are from different parties, including Congress’s Manmohan Singh, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, and Trinamool Congress’s Mamata Banerjee.

The report says it “cannot be taken to be more broadly representative” for all of India as it has only surveyed English-speaking, online news users in India. Most respondents were affluent, with formal higher education, urban and largely male. This is not representative in a country like India where millions are in fact illiterate, without access to the internet, not English speaking and live in rural India.

BJP supporters trust the news more than Congress supporters

Nearly half the users who identify with particular political parties also use news websites which appear alternative or partisan.

For instance, 45% of those who support the BJP, also trust their news. Thirty-six percent of those who support the UPA government trust their news. Those who identify as “non partisan” are the most distrustful of news, with only 26% of them having any trust in the news.

The report says that political partisanship has a strong correlation with trust in the news. The findings from India on this perhaps suggests “some discontent with the perceived relations between much of the political establishment and the news media covering it”, says the report.

It’s a losing battle for news websites anyway, according to the survey. Most users reject dedicated news websites because they do not trust them. They are instead choosing social media and search tools.

Only 39% of those surveyed said they trust the news which they use most of the time. Another 36% say they trust the news in general, most of the time. Trust in social media is about the same, at 34%. Trust in searched news is highest, at 45%.

The report also looks at the rise of “alternative and partisan websites” launched by entrepreneurs and also the public’s demand for “highly ideologically charged angles on news”.

Some of the “partisan and alternative” news websites which came up in the survey include The Logical Indian, One India, India Facts, DailyO, OpIndia, Right Log, Aji Haan and PGurus.

The report says that legacy brands are still the most trusted, such as the Times of India, Hindustan Times, Indian Express, government-controlled DD News and NDTV.

New entrants like Republic TV, FirstPost and The Wire are “significantly less trusted more broadly,” says the report. BJP supporters trust organisations like and “especially” Republic TV.

NDTV and The Wire are “the only exceptions” to this trend of affiliation, with supporters of both BJP and UPA saying that they can trust it.

Source: The Reuters Institute report

According to the survey results, The Wire was given a trust-score of 6 out of 10 by those who support the BJP and a score of slightly more than 6 by those who support the UPA. Those who identify as non-partisan gave The Wire a score slightly less than 6.