Business Law

Freedom House: Internet Freedom Declines for 9th Year in a Row, Blames Social Media

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by Bennet Kelley

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world and publisher of the annual Freedom on the Net report, released a pessimistic 2019 report “Freedom on the Net 2019: The Crisis of Social Media“.

The report found a decline in internet freedom for the ninth year in a row, citing the fact that “[r]epressive regimes, elected incumbents¬†with authoritarian ambitions, and unscrupulous partisan¬†operatives have exploited the unregulated spaces of social media platforms, converting them into instruments for political distortion and societal control.”¬† The report explained that with the leading social media platforms being based in the United States,¬†

their exploitation by antidemocratic forces is in large part a¬†product of American neglect. Whether due to na√Įvet√© about¬†the internet‚Äôs role in democracy promotion or policymakers‚Äô¬†laissez-faire attitude toward Silicon Valley, we now face a stark¬†reality: the future of internet freedom rests on our ability to¬†fix social media

The report noted that 71 percent of internet users live in countries where individuals were arrested or imprisoned for posting content on political, social, or religious issues; 65 percent in countries where individuals have been killed for online activities and 56% live in countries where political, social or religious content was blocked online.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Of the 65 countries monitored, the biggest declines were seen in¬†Sudan and Kazakhstan followed by¬†Brazil, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe.¬†
  • China confirmed its status as the world‚Äôs worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year due to censorship reaching “unprecedented extremes”;
  • Internet freedom declined in the United States based on increased surveillance of online activity and warrantless¬†searches of travelers‚Äô electronic devices¬†to glean information about constitutionally protected¬†activities such as peaceful protests and critical reporting.
  • Iceland surpassed Estonia, to become the world‚Äôs best protector of internet freedom, with Canada, Germany, and Australia rounding out the top 5.

Bennet Kelley (@InternetLawCent) is the founder of the Internet Law Center in Santa Monica.

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