x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Young dodge the internet censors

Blocks imposed in the UAE and other countries are failing to stop young people from seeing censored websites.

DUBAI // Internet blocks imposed in the UAE and other Middle East countries are failing to stop young people from seeing the censored websites, security experts were told yesterday. A survey of internet habits showed that many young people in the region have used proxy servers or software to get around censorship, suggesting that blocks imposed in the UAE and other countries are little deterrent to a generation that has grown up with technology. The results of the survey were released at the National Security Summit, which ended yesterday.

More than two-thirds of the 16-to 35-year-olds surveyed said they had used the internet to communicate with people it would normally be considered culturally inappropriate for them to interact with, such as members of the opposite sex. Outside the summit, Dan Healy, the chief executive officer of Real Opinions, which carried out the research, said because the survey was conducted anonymously and online, people were more comfortable expressing their opinions than they might be in person.

"The internet, especially social-networking sites, can be a barometer of opinion for what people are thinking, both in individual countries and the region as a whole," Mr Healy said. "Research like this can hold up a mirror to examine the kind of environment that is being created, and allow governments to take action to alleviate potential problems." According to the survey, most young people used the internet to help with education, while 39 per cent said they used it to read about or discuss religion.

Only 15 per cent of respondents said they used it to follow politics in the Middle East. Many of those surveyed said they had freedom when using the internet, with 79 per cent saying they could express opinions without fear of retribution, while 69 per cent said they had used it to interact with people who it would not be socially acceptable to talk to otherwise. Mr Healy said that another of the survey's findings - that rigid social structures and a perceived inability to improve one's lot in life - could pose a security threat in the region.

"If you think of the kind of frustration that could create in someone who did have the desire to change their social standing, that could translate to a security threat," Mr Healy said. "How many of those people would turn their frustration into action against the state is the big question." gmcclenaghan@thenational.ae