A Russian fan with her face painted with the Russian flag watches the men's quarter-finals ice hockey game between Russia and Finland. Russia was eliminated from the men's ice hockey competition at the Sochi Games on Wednesday following a 3-1 quarter-final loss to Finland.
Eric Gaillard—Reuters
By Denver Nicks
March 19, 2014

The Russia of President Vladimir Putin has not cultivated a reputation as a bastion of freedom, but a Pew survey out Wednesday suggests younger Russians may be more liberty-loving than the stereotype suggests — at least when it comes to the internet.

In the Pew Research Center’s study titled “Emerging and Developing Nations Want Freedom on the Internet,” surveyors found a wide chasm—the widest of all countries surveyed—between how much old and young Russians care about Internet freedom.

Among Russians as a whole, just 63% say it is important that people have access to the Internet free from government censorship. Delving deeper into the numbers, however, reveals a stark generational divide. Among Russians 18 to 29 years old, eight in ten say an uncensored Internet is important to them, a position taken by 72% of Russians 30 to 49 but only 44% of Russians over 50.

The gap on that question between the oldest and youngest Russians—a difference of 36%—is the widest of any country surveyed. The country also had one of the highest shares of people—15%— saying Internet freedom is not at all important to them.

Granted, this is just a single metric and part of the discrepancy may stem simply from older Russians being less interested in the Internet in general than the generations coming after them, or even a lingering Cold War mindset. But the wide disparity nonetheless reveals a divide in Russian society. The “censorship gap,” if you will, may signal a coming shift in Russian public opinion over the longer term, as the old guard naturally gives way to the new.

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