Many characteristics of the Georgian population are changing, but perhaps none as drastically as internet usage. Looking at data from the Caucasus Barometer, in only three years the estimated proportion of the adult population using the internet at least once a week has grown from an estimated 23% to an estimated 41%:
Since having access to the internet drastically increases the amount and varies the type of information available to people, the question of political implications naturally follows. As Georgians begin accessing information from online sources, how are their assessments of their governments and others changing?
In order to address this question, we can separate the population into two groups. One group is those people who access the internet at least once per week and report utilizing it for the purpose of searching for information, consuming news, writing or reading blogs, or engaging in forum discussions. The second group is those people who either don’t regularly access the internet, or who use it for purely recreational activities such as online gaming.
Let’s compare the two groups’ views on their government in the 2011 Caucasus Barometer. Here are five questions asked in the survey that measure respondents’ perception of the level of fairness and freedom of information in Georgia:
- Under the present government in Georgia do you completely agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or completely disagree that people like yourself are treated fairly by the government?
- To what degree does the court system in Georgia treat all citizens equally or to what degree does it favor some over others?
- Would you say that the most recent election was conducted completely fairly, to some extent fairly, or not at all fairly?
- In Georgia today, do you think or not that people like yourself have the right to openly say what they think?
- How well do you think TV journalists in Georgia inform the population about what is actually going on in Georgia?
Interestingly, not a single one of these five questions were answered significantly differently by the two groups! This suggests that consuming information from online sources does not paint a substantially different picture of Georgia than that painted by sources available via TV and newspaper. One area where we do find significant differences between those who collect information online and those who don’t, is in their perceptions of Europe. Looking at the most extreme views on EU integration, those who either don’t support integration at all or fully support it, the proportion of the population that gets information online has significantly greater support for integration.
The same pattern holds with support for NATO integration, but does this trend hold outside of politics? Interestingly, it does. On the subject of inter-ethnic marriages, CB respondents are asked whether or not they approve of women of their ethnic group marrying members of other specific groups. When asked about domestic ethnic minorities such as Azerbaijanis living in Georgia and Armenians living in Georgia, the opinions of those who get information from the internet are not significantly different from those who do not. However, when asked about inter-ethnic marriages with members of European nations, opinions differ significantly.
The fact that the approval of interethnic marriages by those who get information from the internet is significantly higher with respect to Europeans but not with respect to domestic ethnic minorities suggests that the issue is not simply one of internet users being less socially conservative. In fact, respondents who got information from the internet were actually slightly more likely to say that both abortion and homosexuality were never justifiable, although the differences were not statistically significant. So, rather than simply being more liberal, it seems that people who get information from the internet are more open specifically to Europeans.
In summary, the data suggest that while people who get information from the internet do not perceive their own country differently, they do perceive Europe more positively. Why might this be? Could it simply be because they have access to more information about Europe and thus feel more comfortable with Europe as a partner? Or could it be that they are actually receiving more positive messages about Europe via the internet? Or, could it be due to another factor or combination of factors altogether?
One way to look into this question in more detail may be by examining the Media Survey, which CRRC conducted in 2009 and 2011. Both data sets are for download at http://crrc.ge/data/, and for online data analysis at http://crrc.ge/oda/. The survey includes many questions regarding the channels through which respondents receive information, and also includes questions assessing the accuracy of media sources and measuring levels of trust in various governmental and international bodies.
Readers are invited to respond with their own theories and data analysis to support them, and we’ll publish a blog post on one of the responses. Please send your ideas and preliminary analyses to firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, May 21st, and feel free to contact me sooner if you have any questions.