The internet is a medium that uniquely represents freedom. We associate the internet with freedom of speech and freedom of expression as well as the freedom to access information. But a recent report shows the reality of accessing the internet in the world today. Two-thirds of the internet users in the world live in countries where there is government censorship. The number of regimes that impose censorship of the internet on their citizens is larger than it might appear. Living in a space where access to the internet is unrestricted makes it easy to take such liberties for granted.
Internet Freedom Goes Down This Year
Today, Freedom House released a report on freedom on the internet in the world. The pro-democracy think tank reported that internet freedom has declined across the globe. This year was the sixth year in a row when that has happened. The Freedom House report says that there has been an increase in government censorship. Regimes in the world have cracked down on social media networks as well as messaging apps.
The Freedom House report made an analysis of internet freedom in 65 countries. That covers approximatively 88 percent of the world’s internet users. The number one place in a top of countries that infringe on internet freedom went to China. For the second year in a row, China is the country where there is the most government censorship of the internet. However, the rankings do not include North Korea.
Internet freedom in the United States went up slightly in the past year. The USA Freedom Act imposed some limitations on the bulk collection of metadata by intelligence agencies like National Security Agency (NSA).
Messaging Apps Blocked by Governments
This year saw governments crack down on secure messaging apps. WhatsApp and Telegram were targeted by government censorship. Over the course of the year 2016, 12 countries blocked or restricted WhatsApp. That’s more than any other messaging app. Countries like Bahrain and Bangladesh blocked the popular messaging app. Ethiopia blocked WhatsApp in response to it being used during civilian protests. China imposed restrictions on the use of Telegram. The encrypted messaging service had become very popular among human rights lawyers in China.
Sanja Kelly is the co-author of the Freedom on the Net 2016 report. She points to the impact of government restriction of access to the internet on societies in the world.
“Although the blocking of these tools affects everyone, it has an especially harmful impact on human rights defenders, journalists, and marginalized communities who often depend on these apps to bypass government surveillance,”
said Sanja Kelly in a statement.
Governments also used censorship to block diverse online content during the past year. There was an increase in the censorship of online petitions as well as calls for protests. Regimes also censored material related to minority rights. Images that mocked authoritarian leaders were targeted as well.
“When faced with humorous memes and cartoons of themselves, some world leaders are thin-skinned and lash out. Instead of enjoying a good laugh, they try to remove the images and imprison anyone posting them online,”
said Sanja Kelly.
Image source: here.