Fake Internet Content a High Concern, but Appetite for Regulation Weakens

21 September 2017 – Almost four out of five Internet users worry about what is real and fake on the Internet (79%), with nearly half (45%) strongly identifying with this concern, according to a new global poll conducted in 18 countries for the BBC World Service.
The poll of more than 16,000 adults conducted by GlobeScan between January and April 2017 also found that, despite their concern about fake Internet content, a growing proportion of Internet users are opposed to governmental regulation. On average, in the 15 tracking countries surveyed, the proportion agreeing that the Internet should never be regulated by any level of government has increased, from 51 per cent in 2010 to 58 per cent in 2017.
This pushback against regulation comes in the context of greater advocacy for ensuring universal access to the Internet. In the 16 tracking countries surveyed on this question, an average of 82 per cent think that access to the Internet should be a fundamental right of all people, up from 79 per cent in 2010. In the same interval, Internet usage has expanded globally, with 75 per cent reporting personal use of it in the past six months in 2017, a jump of 16 points compared to seven years ago (59%).
The countries with the highest proportions opposed to any sort of government regulation of the Internet include Greece (84%), Nigeria (82%), Brazil (72%), France (71%), and Turkey and Kenya (each 70%). These countries also tend to be those where opposition to regulation has grown most notably since 2010: the largest increases are 24 points in France, 19 points in Brazil, and 16 points in Turkey.
In a number of Western nations, apart from Greece and France, attitudes towards Internet regulation are rather mixed. Opinion in Canada, Australia, Spain, and Germany is polarised on this topic, with the proportions in favour of government intervention trailing the majorities against it by just a few points. In the UK, a narrow but stable majority (53%) continues to favour some sort of regulation. The only other surveyed country to share this view is China, where a growing majority is willing to support Internet regulation by authority (67%, up 9 points).
As Internet usage has widened, anxiety about what is real and fake online has spread. Brazilians are the most worried about this, with 92 per cent reporting some level of concern. Other emerging economies also report high unease, especially in Indonesia (90%), Nigeria (88%), and Kenya (85%). Elsewhere in the world, reported levels of concern about fake Internet content are also quite high, ranging from 75 to 85 per cent in most countries, with the exception of Germany—the only surveyed nation with a narrow majority (51%) stating that they are not worried about this.
The poll also reveals that Internet users are increasingly wary of expressing their opinions online. In the tracking countries, a majority (53%) do not feel safe doing this in 2017, compared to 49 per cent in 2010. Cautious web users now outnumber those who feel safe to speak their minds online (46%). Caution is more pronounced in developed economies, while attitudes in developing economies are more relaxed, with strong majorities reporting feeling safe to express their opinions online in Nigeria (94%, up 10 points since 2010), Peru (88%), Indonesia (73%, up 7 points), Kenya (71%, stable), and China (66%, a leap of 23 points).
This is in stark contrast with the anxious mood in the Western countries surveyed, where (except in Germany) solid and strongly increasing majorities report unease about expressing their opinions in Europe, North America, and Australia. The French and the Greeks are least likely to see the Internet as a safe place to speak freely (82% and 75%, respectively). German perceptions stand at odds with this trend, with anxiety diminishing to 53 per cent in 2017, a large drop from 2010, when a strong majority (72%) did not see the Internet as a safe place to express opinion. Attitudes in Germany are now closer to those in Russia, Turkey, Mexico and Brazil.
GlobeScan Chairman Doug Miller commented: “The significant poll finding here is the strengthened opposition to any sort of government control over the Internet (up 7 points since 2010). This is despite the poll findings showing people’s comfort in expressing their opinions online has fallen since 2010, likely due to Edward Snowden’s 2013 NSA surveillance revelations. However, Snowden’s impact appears to have been modest on this measure (down only 4 percentage points). This suggests that the present high concern about ‘fake news’ may not affect people’s on-line behaviour very much, apart from them doing more fact-checking.”
The results are drawn from a survey of 16,542 adult citizens across 18 countries, including 11,799 Internet users, conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan and its research partners in each country. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork, involving telephone and in-person interviews, between 13 January and 27 April 2017. In five of the 18 countries, the sample was limited to major urban areas. The margin of error per country ranges from +/- 2.9 to 3.9 per cent. 

Key Demographic Findings

The poll also highlights some differences by gender. Globally, personal usage of the Internet is more widespread among men than among women (78% vs 71%), and this trend extends across 13 out of 17 countries, including developed nations such as France, Germany, Spain, and the USA.
Female Internet users are less likely than male users to feel safe expressing their opinions online. Globally, only 44 per cent of female respondents are unafraid to speak their minds, outweighed by the 54 per cent who report anxiety about this. Male respondents are split on this topic (49% vs 50%). This anxiety among women is more pronounced in developed countries such as the UK (just 36% feeling safe), USA (35%), Canada and Australia (each 29%), Spain (23%), Greece (19%), and France (just 14%).
Attitudes towards government regulation of the Internet are fairly similar across genders globally, with global majorities of both male and female respondents opposing regulation (62% and 58%, respectively). Some gender differences appear in some countries, however. While majorities of male Internet users oppose regulation in Australia, Canada, Germany, and Spain, their female counterparts are split on this question. In the UK, a majority of women (56%) actually favour some regulation while men are equally divided. British women are also significantly more worried than their male counterparts about fake content on the internet (77% vs 65%).
Looking at age categories, there is still a strong generational gradient in Internet usage, which is near-universal (96%) among under-18s, but has reached fewer than half (45%) of over-65s. Within this wider pattern, the most notable difference in perceptions between Millennials and the older groups relates to their more relaxed attitude to expressing their opinion online. Globally, in 17 countries, 57 per cent feel safe to speak their mind among 18-24 year old respondents, but this proportion decreases steadily as respondents get older, falling to just 39 and 30 per cent among the 55-64 year old group and those aged more than 65, respectively. This generational difference is particularly apparent in Germany, Mexico, Brazil, and to some extent in the UK and in Australia.
Globally, younger respondents aged 18 to 24 years old are also more likely than their elders to oppose government regulation of the Internet: 64 per cent report this opinion, while the proportion steadily decreases among the older cohorts, falling to just 53 per cent among the oldest cohort. And, perhaps because their use of the internet is more common, they show greater concern about fake content online (80% vs 77% and 76% among the 45-54 and 55-64 age groups, respectively).

participating countries

In Brazil, China, Indonesia, Kenya, and Turkey, urban samples were used.


bbc2017 internet 1

bbc2017 internet 2

bbc2017 internet 3

bbc2017 internet 4

bbc2017 internet 5

bbc2017 internet 6

bbc2017 internet 7

Media Contacts

For media interviews, please contact:

  • Stacy Rowland, Director Public Relations and Communications, GlobeScan Incorporated

About the BBC World Service

BBC World Service is an international multimedia broadcaster, delivering a wide range of language and regional services on radio, TV, online and via wireless handheld devices. It uses multiple platforms to reach its weekly audience of 192 million globally, including shortwave, AM, FM, digital satellite and cable channels. Its news sites include audio and video content and offer opportunities to join the global debate. BBC World Service offers its multilingual radio content to partner FM stations around the world and has numerous partnerships supplying content to news websites, mobile phones and other wireless handheld devices as well as TV channels. For more information, visit bbc.com/worldservice.


In total 16,542 citizens in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Peru, Russia, Spain, Turkey, the UK, and the United States were interviewed face-to-face or by telephone between January 13, 2017 and April 27, 2017. Polling was conducted for BBC World Service by GlobeScan and its research partners in each country.
In Brazil, China, Indonesia, Kenya, and Turkey urban samples were used. The margin of error per country ranges from +/- 2.9 to 3.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Sample Size (unweighted)
Field dates
Sample frame
Survey methodology
Type of sample
Australia 800 February 6–19, 2017 18+ Telephone National
Brazil 810 March 20 – April 10, 2017 18-69 Face-to-face Urban1
Canada 1000 January 27 – February 15, 2017 18+ Telephone National
China 1171 February 24, – April 25, 2017 18+ Telephone Urban2
France 1009 February 6-16, 2017 18+ Telephone National
Germany 634 January 13–31, 2017 16-70 Telephone National
Greece 709 March 17 – April 19, 2017 18+ Telephone National
India 1018 January 19 – March 23, 2017 18+ Telephone National
Indonesia 1000 March 8–22, 2017 18+ Face-to-face Urban3
Kenya 1010 February 1–15, 2017 18+ Face-to-face Urban4
Mexico 799 April 22–27, 2017 18+ Face-to-face National
Nigeria 800 February 2–8, 2017 18+ Face-to-face National
Peru 1000 April 13–26, 2017 18-70 Face-to-face National
Russia 1018 February 3-22, 2017 18+ Telephone National
Spain 797 February 8-15, 2017 18+ Telephone National
Turkey 966 March 2–20, 2017 15+ Face-to-face Urban5
United Kingdom 1001 January 27 – February 19, 2017 18+ Telephone National
USA 1000 January 19 February 1, 2017 18+ Telephone National
  1. In Brazil the survey was conducted in Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Curitiba, Goiânia, Porto Alegre, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, São Paulo, representing 23 per cent of the national adult population.
  2. In China the survey was conducted in Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Hangzhou,  Harbin, Shanghai, Shenyang, Shijiazhuang, Tianjin, Wuhan, Xi’an, and Zhengzhou, representing 15 per cent of the national adult population.
  3. In Indonesia the survey was conducted in Bandung, Jakarta, Makassar, Medan, and Surabaya, representing 8 per cent of the national adult population.
  4. In Kenya the survey was conducted in Bomet, Bungoma, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Embu, Homa Bay,   Kajiago, Kakamega, Kericho, Kiambu, Kilifi, Kirinyaga, Kisii, Kisumu, Kwale, Machakos, Makueni, Meru, Migori, Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru, Nyandarua, Siaya, Tharaka, Turkana, Uasin, Gishu, and Vihiga, representing 32 per cent of the national adult population.
  5. In Turkey the survey was conducted in İstanbul, Tekirdağ, Bursa, İzmir, Adana, Samsun, Trabzon, Ankara, Kayseri, Malatya, Diyarbakır, and Erzurum, representing 47 per cent of the national adult population.

Research Partners

Country Research Institute Location Contact
Australia GlobeScan Toronto Robin Miller
+1 647 528 2767
Brazil Market Analysis Florianopolis Fabián Echegaray
+55 48 3364 0000
Canada GlobeScan Toronto Robin Miller
+1 647 528 2767
China GlobeScan Toronto Robin Miller
+1 647 528 2767
France Efficience 3 Paris and Rheims Thierry Laurain
+33 1 4316 5442
Germany Ri*QUESTA GmbH Teningen Bernhard Rieder
+49 7641 93 43 36
Greece MRB Hellas Athens Vivian Antonopoulou
+30210 6971000 /+306944 414756
India Team C Voter Noida Yashwant Deshmukh
+91 120 424 7135
Indonesia DEKA Marketing Research Jakarta Ratna Mulia Darmawan
+62 21 723 6901
Kenya Research Path Associates Ltd. Nairobi Charles Onsongo
+254 20 2734770
Mexico Parametría Mexico City Francisco Abundis
+52 55 2614 0089
Nigeria Market Trends Lagos Jo Ebhomenye
+234 1734 7384
Peru Datum Lima Urpi Torrado
+511 215 0600
Russia CESSI Institute for Comparative Social Research Moscow Vladimir Andreenkov
+7 495 650 55 18
Spain Sigma Dos Int. Madrid Petrana Valentinova
+34 91 360 0474
Turkey Yöntem Research Consultancy Ltd. Istanbul Mehmet Aktulga
+90 212 278 12 19
United Kingdom Populus Data Solutions London Patrick Diamond
+44 207 553 4148
USA GlobeScan Toronto Robin Miller
+1 647 528 2767


M3t. Have you personally used the internet or E-mail in the past six months?
01 – Yes
02 – No
99 – DK/NA
M4. To what extent do you agree or disagree that…
ct. The internet is a safe place to express my opinions [ASKED ONLY IF YES AT M3]
01 – Strongly agree
02 – Somewhat agree
03 – Somewhat disagree
04 – Strongly disagree
99 – DK/NA
gt. The internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere [ASKED ONLY IF YES AT M3]
ht. Access to the internet should be a fundamental right of all people [ASKED TO ALL]
e. I worry about what is real and what is fake on the Internet [ASKED ONLY IF YES AT M3]