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Media (R)evolutions: Internet freedom in decline across the world

Roxanne Bauer's picture

New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.

In its 2015 annual “Freedom on the Net” reportFreedom House, a US-based organization, analyzed 65 countries to assess the degree to which individuals enjoy rights and freedoms online within each country.

Unfortunately, the report finds internet freedom around the world has declined for a fifth consecutive year as more governments censored information of public interest while they also expanded surveillance activity and cracked down on privacy tools. Authorities in 42 of the countries analyzed required internet users or private customers to restrict or delete online content related to political, religious, or social issues, while authorities in 40 of 65 countries went a step further to imprison people for sharing information concerning politics, religion or society through digital networks.  Additionally, governments in 14 of 65 countries passed new laws to increase surveillance since June 2014, and others upgraded their surveillance tools.  Globally, democracies and authoritarian regimes alike stigmatized encryption as an instrument of terrorism, and many tried to ban or limit tools that protect privacy.

However, it is not all bad news. Nearly one-third of Internet users worldwide are in countries that are considered "Free". Internet freedom has also increased in eight countries over the past few years, including Cuba, Iran, Malawi, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, and Zambia. All of these fall into the "Partly Free" or "Not Free" categories. This occurred while many other poor performers showed further declines in freedom.

This chart, created by Niall McCarthy at Statista, shows the state of internet freedom around the world in 2015, as compiled by Freedom House.

Internet Freedom Across The World Visualized | Statista
Infographic: Internet Freedom Across The World Visualized | Statista


The Freedom House report covers three main areas:

  1. Obstacles to Access details infrastructural and economic barriers to access, legal and ownership control over internet service providers, and independence of regulatory bodies;
  2. Limits on Content analyzes legal regulations on content, technical filtering and blocking of websites, self-censorship, the vibrancy/diversity of online news media, and the use of digital tools for civic mobilization;
  3. Violations of User Rights tackles surveillance, privacy, and repercussions for online speech and activities, such as imprisonment, extralegal harassment, or cyberattacks.

What can be done to reverse this decline in Internet freedom? One approach is to protect Internet governance from political control and ensure that governments are not the only legitimate providers or stakeholders in Internet governance. Internet governance must also work to resolve the tension between protecting citizens from crimes while at the same time protecting their privacy.

Freedom House also offers interactive graphics, as well as reports on each country, on its Freedom on the Net site.


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Source: Statista

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