The Swiss are using the internet more than ever but have growing angst about companies like Facebook violating their privacy. The consequence is a rising trend to self-censorship: not looking for certain information or not expressing oneself online.
The average time the Swiss spend on the internet has doubled since 2011 to 25 hours a week, according to the results of the fifth study on internet usage by the University of Zurich published on Thursday. The number of non-users has more than halved in the past eight years and is largely among the population aged over 55.
However, confidence in online information continues to decline, with six out of ten Swiss internet users saying that they believe at least half of the information on the internet is credible. The proportion of people checking facts on the internet rose sharply between 2013 and 2017, reaching 71% in the latest survey.
Nearly half of Swiss internet users (45%) are concerned about internet companies like Facebook violating their privacy.
One consequence of this is that internet users limit their activity online: more than half (59%) state that possible surveillance dissuades them from freely searching for information such as sensitive political content or expressing their opinions.
“Deterrent effects due to a sense of surveillance are troubling from a democracy point of view,” says Michael Latzer, who led the study at the University of Zurich. “They threaten the exercise of fundamental rights and social participation via the internet.”
The results also reveal that many Swiss do not believe the internet will further improve the democratic quality of Switzerland’s political system. Only a minority believe that citizens can have more say (21%) and more power (27%) because of internet use.
A minority also thinks that the internet helps them understand politics better (40%) or that politicians and the government are more concerned about what they think due to the internet (27%).
Despite this, more people (51%) welcome electronic voting, with the greatest scepticism coming from older generations.
For those using the internet, addiction and overconsumption are growing problems, with about a quarter (26%) of internet users believing that they are wasting time that could be used for important things; 24% report that they spend more time than they would like online.
Some 38% feel pressure in their personal life to respond quickly to messages. This is even higher in the professional context, where about three-quarters of users (73%) feel this.
The study surveyed 1,122 people over the age of 14 and is part of the World Internet Project exploring internet usage in 30 countries.
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