Since June 2016, 32 of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net saw internet freedom deteriorate. (1) Empowered restriction laws (Etat d’Urgence) and (2) fake news and disinformation both during and after the presidential election contributed to a score decline in France’s otherwise generally free environment.
I am glad to have participated in the redaction of this latest Freedom on the Net report.
Key Findings (global overview)
- Governments manipulated social media to undermine democracy: Governments in 30 countries of the 65 countries assessed attempted to control online discussions. The practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated over last few years.
- State censors targeted mobile connectivity: An increasing number of governments have restricted mobile internet service for political or security reasons. Half of all internet shutdowns in the past year were specific to mobile connectivity, with most others affecting mobile and fixed-line service simultaneously. Most mobile shutdowns occurred in areas populated with ethnic or religious minorities such as Tibetan areas in China and Oromo areas in Ethiopia.
- More governments restricted live video: As live video gained popularity with the emergence of platforms like Facebook Live, and Snapchat’s Live Stories internet users faced restrictions or attacks for live streaming in at least nine countries, often to prevent streaming of antigovernment protests. Countries likes Belarus disrupted mobile connectivity to prevent livestreamed images from reaching mass audience.
- Technical attacks against news outlets, opposition, and rights defenders increased: Cyberattacks against government critics were documented in 34 out of 65 countries. Many governments took additional steps to restrict encryption, leaving citizens further exposed.
- New restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs): 14 countries now restrict tools used to circumvent censorship in some form and six countries introduced new restrictions, either legal bans or technical blocks on VPN websites or network traffic.
- Physical attacks against netizens and online journalists expanded dramatically: The number of countries that featured physical reprisals for online speech increased by 50 percent over the past year—from 20 to 30 of the countries assessed. In eight countries, people were murdered for their online expression. In Jordan, a Christian cartoonist was murdered for mocking Islamist militants’ vision of heaven, while in Myanmar, a journalist was murdered after posting on Facebook notes that alleged corruption.
To view the report, see www.freedomonthenet.org.