For the eighth consecutive year in a row, the internet’s freedom is declining as countries around the world simultaneously crack down on users’ access to information and track their personal data, a new report from think tank Freedom House claims.
Freedom on the Net follows 65 countries around the world and observes their relationship with the internet over time. The study claims 26 countries’ internet freedom declined since June 2017, with only 19 improving. “Almost half” of all 26 declining countries experienced a loss in internet freedom due to issues connected to political elections. These ranged from disinformation to online censorship to arrests targeting critics.
Internet freedom also declined in the U.S. during 2018. Freedom House cites the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality, the reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act, and “disinformation and hyperpartisan content” running rampant across the American internet as the major concerns that impact online freedom. The report goes on to stress that the U.S. should reintroduce the Global Online Freedom Act, which would give the Secretary of State the power to label and penalize countries that engage in restrictions against online freedom.
Above all, the report narrows in on China as “the worst abuser of internet freedom in 2018,” stressing that the nation’s government has simultaneously “stepped up efforts to use digital media to increase their own power, both at home and abroad” while fostering a new approach to extensive surveillance and online censorship that is spreading to other countries.
Freedom House goes on to explain that technology “should empower citizens” to make their own decisions “without coercion or hidden manipulation,” and that protecting the internet from authoritarian and anti-democratic influence is necessary in order to keep the internet a free and open tool for the world.
“If democracy is to survive the digital age, technology companies, governments, and civil society must work together to find real solutions to the problems of social media manipulation and abusive data collection,” Freedom House writes in its report. “Global internet freedom can and should be the antidote to digital authoritarianism. The health of the world’s democracies depends on it.”
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H/T the Verge