Global Internet freedom continues its decline
Freedom House: Freedom on the Net 2019. Explore the map here.
The latest Freedom House report notes that global Internet freedom has continued its decline for nine consecutive years. Unregulated social media has been exploited for political and societal manipulation, and these tactics are being adopted around the globe. Iceland, however, maintains the integrity of their internet freedom with a top ranking of 95/100.
Social media allow ordinary citizens to access information and communicate globally, but they also create the opportunity for political manipulation.
In 38 of the 65 countries that Freedom House assessed, political leaders paid for secret actions intended to shape political opinions—this is a new high. These manoeuvres for influence are increasingly crossing borders, for example the Russian interference in the 2016 American presidential election.
Along with active manipulation, mass surveillance is an increasing concern. Government agencies—including in democratic countries—are using social media to collect and analyse data from their population. A record-high 47 of the 65 countries assessed arrested social media users based on their political, social, or religious speech. The report asserts that fixing social media is crucial to the future of internet freedom.
Only 16 countries had net improvements, compared to 33 who have experienced consistent decline since 2018. Countries with the largest declines were Sudan, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe. China is in the fourth consecutive year of being the worst abuser of internet freedom, from enhanced information controls to the closing of individual accounts.
Iceland (the only Nordic country included in the assessment) leads the group as the best protector of internet freedom, with almost universal connectivity, limited content restrictions, and robust users’ rights protections. Social media are used as a platform for civic engagement free from government manipulation or interference.
In 2018, Iceland’s protection of internet freedom was challenged by a cyber-attack (not politically motivated) affecting thousands of users and compromising hundreds of individual bank accounts.
About the report: Freedom on the Net 2019 covers 65 countries – accounting for an estimated 87 per cent of Internet users worldwide. Countries are selected on the basis of the size of their internet population, their regional or global relevance, and the unique quality of their national internet policy. The 2019 edition focuses on developments that occurred between June 2018 and May 2019. Read more about the report and the methodology.