The Stack Archive

New report shows internet freedom declining worldwide

Wed 23 Nov 2016

A report issued by an independent watchdog organization shows that internet freedom is on the decline worldwide for the sixth straight year.

Researchers at Freedom House conducted a study and, based on their findings, assigned each of 65 countries a Freedom of the Internet (FOTIN) score. The FOTIN score is based on three categories: obstacles to access, which includes infrastructural and economic barriers to the internet; limits to content, and violations of user rights, which covers surveillance, privacy, and repercussions to users who violate internet restrictions.

The study found that internet freedom continues to decline as governments increasingly target social media and communication apps to halt dissemination of information among the public.

Social media platforms have been subject to government interference for years, but the new report finds that communication apps like WhatsApp and Telegram are now being targeted as well. Governments in 24 different countries impeded access to social media and communications apps, up from 15 in the prior year. The app with the most restrictions was WhatsApp, with 12 countries blocking the service or disabling features.

The study found that arrests for posts made on social media have increased by 50% since 2013. The country with the lowest internet freedom score was China, with the highest number of ‘key internet controls’ imposed on its citizens. Chinese authorities restrict or control aspects of digital information in nine different categories, the most of any country in the study. The greatest decline in internet freedom for the past five years occurred in Ukraine, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Russia and Turkey.

The report also broke down worldwide internet users by level of freedom (based on the FOTIN score and internet penetration of each country). They found that 35% of internet users are not free, 29% partly free and 12% not assessed, leaving less than a quarter of internet users worldwide rated as ‘free’.

Criticism of authorities was found to be the most widely censored topic, and an increasing number of countries attempting to prohibit satire on social media with 26 countries imposing regulations or restrictions, up from 23 in 2015.

On a positive note, however, the study found that even in the most restrictive countries, the internet is still significantly more free than the news media in general.


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