Business Law

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

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 naïveté about the internet’s role in democracy promotion or policymakers’ 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’s 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’ electronic devices to glean information about constitutionally protected activities such as peaceful protests and critical reporting.
  • Iceland surpassed Estonia, to become the world’s 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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