Web freedom on the decline in US and globally, examine finds | Web
Online freedom continues to decline globally, with governments increasingly cracking down on user language and increasing misinformation, according to a new study.
The report by Freedom House, a Washington, DC-based democracy advocacy group, found that internet freedom has declined for the fifth consecutive year in the US and the eleventh time internationally – for two different reasons.
Domestically, the lack of regulation in the tech industry has allowed companies to grow beyond allegations and misinformation to thrive online. Abroad, authoritarian governments have used their tight controls over the Internet to suppress free expression.
Freedom House cited an increasing lack of diversity in online sources of information in the US, which allowed conspiracies and misinformation to rise, an issue that was strongly underlined during the 2020 elections and the 2021 uprising in the US Capitol.
“The spread of false and conspiratorial content about the November 2020 election has shaken the foundations of the American political system,” the report said.
The study, published annually since 1973, uses a standard index to measure Internet freedom by country on a 100-point scale. It asks questions about Internet infrastructure, government control and access barriers, as well as content regulation. Countries are rated on a 100-point scale, with higher numbers being considered “freer”.
The report called Joe Biden’s actions “promising” for internet freedom since his election and cited the repeal of a Trump administration order to suspend transactions between US persons and Chinese social media companies as beneficial.
Meanwhile, global internet freedom declined for the eleventh year in a row, with more governments arresting users for non-violent political, social or religious statements than ever before. Officials in at least 20 countries blocked internet access and 20 regimes blocked access to social media platforms, the report said.
The largest decreases were recorded in Myanmar, Belarus and Uganda. Internet freedom fell by seven points in Uganda after pro-government social media accounts flooded the online environment with compromised information ahead of the January 2021 elections. In August 2020, government forces in Belarus countered electoral unrest by restricting internet access and monitoring activists online.
Calling the Chinese government “the world’s worst abuse of internet freedom,” the report cited new laws criminalizing certain utterances on the internet and draconian prison terms imposed on activists for online dissidents – including an 18-year prison sentence Activists for handing out a paper criticizing the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This year, officials in India pressured Twitter to remove protest-related and critical comments and to stop flagging manipulated content shared by the ruling party. Nigerian authorities Turkish President Recep Tayyip, who himself oversaw the mass imprisonment of journalists and opposition politicians.
The report also revealed that governments clash with tech companies over user rights, with authorities in at least 42 countries putting in place new rules for platforms related to content, data and competition over the past year.
In India in particular, officials put pressure on Twitter to remove critical posts about the ruling party. Authorities in Nigeria blocked access to Twitter after the platform removed brand messages from the country’s president. Turkish President Recep Erdoğan repeatedly accused technology companies of “digital fascism” for refusing to comply with the country’s new social media law.
Despite these issues, the report says that legislation to combat abuse by tech companies is limited. It found that 48 countries took regulatory action over the past year, but few of that legislation have the potential to make significant changes.
“In the battles on the high game between governments and tech companies, human rights are the main victims,” said Allie Funk, chief research analyst who co-authored the report, at a press conference on Monday.