25.04.23 Review

The Ageing of Runet: The number of older daily Internet users has increased markedly over the past year, while news aggregators have been losing popularity to Telegram

The number of Russians who use the Internet daily continues to rise, increasing from 68% in March 2022 to 72% in March 2023. According to a poll conducted by the Levada Center, this growth is being driven by older adults (55+), with the share of daily users within this group rising from 40% to 48% of respondents. This is a significant development because daily users consume online news content. In other ways, Russia is still divided into a ‘TV nation’ and a ‘social media nation’ split along age lines, just as it was a year ago. Following a surge at the start of the war, the share of television viewers has gradually declined. However, trust in television has increased slightly among younger respondents. The most significant changes in the structure of media consumption occurred at the start of the full-scale invasion, in February and March 2022. Russians have, in one way or another, largely adapted to the blocking of many websites: half as many people noticed these restrictions compared to a year ago. In addition, a Public Opinion Foundation poll revealed a significant drop in the use of news aggregators as a ‘news feed’ (this corresponded to a decline in the number of users of Novosti, formerly Yandex.Novosti). As a result, messengers, particularly Telegram, grew in popularity as a ‘news feed’.

The Russian Internet's (Runet) audience is still growing: in March 2023, 72% of those polled by the Levada Center said they use the Internet daily. This is an increase of four percentage points since March 2022. It is worth noting that the increase is largely as a result of older age groups: the share of daily Internet users has increased from 40 to 48% among respondents aged 55+, and increased slightly in the 40-54-year-old cohort. More than 90% of respondents in younger age groups are already daily users, so there is little room for further growth. This is particularly significant because daily Internet users consume online news content. They tend to view it as an additional source of information at first, but eventually, they start to consume online new content more and more extensively.

According to the survey, the share of social network users has remained constant over the past year, at 72%-73% (these are users who visit social networks at least once a week). Nevertheless, the share of daily social media users has increased slightly, from 51% to 55%. One in four respondents aged 40-54 does not use social media, while for the youngest generation polled (18-24 years old), social media is an essential part of daily life: 91% use these networks every day. Half of the most senior respondents (55+) never use social media, but 30% of respondents from this group use them daily.

The most popular social network among older respondents is Odnoklassniki (the second most popular network among respondents aged 40-54). VK is the most popular social network among all Russians, with 66% noting it in their responses. This figure has not changed in the year since the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, nor has YouTube's popularity, with the video platform remaining the second most popular social network. YouTube has made the most significant strides in recent years: it was mentioned by 15% of respondents in March 2018, 30% in March 2019, and 47% in March 2022.

The previous poll, conducted at the end of March 2022, revealed a significant increase in the popularity of VKontakte, YouTube, Odnoklassniki, and TikTok. However, the number of Instagram and Facebook users was declining (access to these was restricted in March 2022). The most recent survey, however, saw little or no change from last year's results. In the messenger category, 70% of those polled use WhatsApp, while 40% use Telegram.

Atfirst glance, it is surprising that the number of users who regularly experience difficulties accessing familiar sites and services online has dropped by half (from 32% in March 2022 to 16% in March 2023). However, responses to another question indicate that 62% of Internet users who have occasional problems accessing censored services use a VPN (43% use a VPN daily). As respondents' interest in ‘undesirable’ sources of information declines, so does their use of VPNs. In total, approximately 80% of users who have experienced website blocking are aware of VPNs or use them in some capacity. Of those who did not encounter website blocking, this figure stands at 50%. Paradoxically, the proportion of people who use a VPN regularly or occasionally has remained almost unchanged: 25% compared to 23% a year ago. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that some respondents consider this issue sensitive as it concerns access to restricted content, while others simply do not remember or are unaware that a VPN has been installed on their devices as their children set it up.

Over the past year, there have been no significant changes in the structure of media consumption, i.e. in the structure of news sources. There was a surge in the attention paid to television in March 2022: at the end of 2021 and in January 2022, television was mentioned as a source of information by an average of 61% of those polled, and by March, it had reached an average of 69%. However, this effect was quickly reversed. Throughout the year, 40% of respondents consistently mentioned social media as a source of news, while a third noted that they received news from online publications. The main breakthrough for Telegram came at the start of 2022: in the second half of 2021, it was mentioned by 6-7% of respondents; in March 2022, the figure was 15%, rising to 19% in March 2023.

A little more than 40% of younger respondents (those aged 18-39 years old) mentioned TV as a source of information, while 60% noted social networks. The opposite is true for those aged 40-54 years: 67% mentioned TV, and 39% mentioned social networks, while for even older respondents these figures stood at 83% and 24%, respectively. Since the invasion of Ukraine, trust in television has increased slightly among Levada Center respondents (due to a rise in trust among younger age groups). This has risen from 45% on average in 2021 to 50% in 2022, while trust in social networks declined slightly (with the exception of Telegram).

While the Levada Center poll found little change in the structure of media consumption over the previous year, a survey conducted by FOM in February found some significant shifts in the online consumption of media. According to the study, search engines have lost significant popularity as news aggregators: in early 2022, 39% of respondents accessed news in this way, while in early 2023, only 29% did. The share of respondents who use messengers as a ‘news feed’ increased from 14 to 23% in the last year. This loss came at the expense of Novosti (formerly Yandex.Novosti): it was mentioned by 33% of respondents a year ago, but now only 19% of respondents note it as a news source. The growth of messengers was driven predominantly byTelegram: this was cited as a new source by 20% at the start of 2023, compared to just 9% the previous year.