Online freedoms decline worldwide for sixth consecutive year: report 14.11.16


"Internet freedom has declined for the sixth consecutive year, with more governments than ever before targeting social media and communication apps as a means of halting the rapid dissemination of information, particularly during anti-government protests.

 

Public-facing social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been subject to growing censorship for several years, but in a new trend, governments increasingly target voice communication and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram. These services are able to spread information and connect users quickly and securely, making it more difficult for authorities to control the information landscape or conduct surveillance.

The increased controls show the importance of social media and online communication for advancing political freedom and social justice. It is no coincidence that the tools at the center of the current crackdown have been widely used to hold governments accountable and facilitate uncensored conversations. Authorities in several countries have even resorted to shutting down all internet access at politically contentious times, solely to prevent users from disseminating information through social media and communication apps, with untold social, commercial, and humanitarian consequences.

Some communication apps face restrictions due to their encryption features, which make it extremely difficult for authorities to obtain user data, even for the legitimate purposes of law enforcement and national security. Online voice and video calling apps like Skype have also come under pressure for more mundane reasons. They are now restricted in several countries to protect the revenue of national telecommunications firms, as users were turning to the new services instead of making calls through fixed-line or mobile telephony." [emphasis added]

See: Freedom on the Net 2016: Silencing the Messenger: Communication Apps Under Pressure (Freedom House, link) and the full report: Freedom on the Net 2016 (link to pdf)

Other key issues highlighted in the report:

  • Social media users face unprecedented penalties
  • Governments censor more diverse content
  • Security measures threaten free speech and privacy
  • Online activism reaches new heights

About the report:

"Freedom on the Net is a comprehensive study of internet freedom in 65 countries around the globe, covering 88 percent of the world’s internet users. It tracks improvements and declines in governments’ policies and practices each year, and the countries included in the study are selected to represent diverse geographical regions and types of polity. This report, the seventh in its series, focuses on developments that occurred between June 2015 and May 2016, although some more recent events are included in individual country narratives. More than 70 researchers, nearly all based in the countries they analyzed, contributed to the project by examining laws and practices relevant to the internet, testing the accessibility of select websites, and interviewing a wide range of sources.

Of the 65 countries assessed, 34 have been on a negative trajectory since June 2015."

 

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