Internet freedom is in decline in US, China

The future of Internet freedom rests on fixing social media

The report, Freedom on the Net 2019, focuses on the increasing electoral manipulation and mass surveillance by governments spread across democracies through social media platforms. Barring the existing problem of meddling by foreign regimes, a new menace comes from within. Domestic election interference in the online landscape by populist leaders and their armies of online supporters seek to distort politics by disinformation, a commonly used tactic, says the report.

Monitoring citizen’s online behaviour through advanced social media surveillance was found in at least 40 of the 65 countries analysed. “Once reserved for the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies, big-data spying tools and advances in Artificial Intelligence(AI) are driving a booming, unregulated market for social media surveillance and there are reports of abuse, even in countries with considerable safeguards for fundamental freedom,” said Adrian Shahbaz, Freedom House’s research director for technology and democracy.

A record 47 out of 65 assessed countries featured arrests of users for political, social, or religious speech, constantly curtailing people’s ability to freely express courtesy of these sophisticated monitoring tools.  “The future of Internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media,” said Shahbaz.

Internet freedom’s decline in the United States of America and China ranking as the world’s worst abuser of Internet freedom, governments harnessing big data for social media surveillance, enlisting bots and fake accounts to manipulate social media were among the major findings.

Authorities normalising blanket shutdowns as a policy tool often in the lead-up to elections or during protests and civil unrest. Digital platforms becoming the new battleground for democracy where free expression is under severe assault are some of the key components of this report.

Freedom on the Net 2019 assesses developments in Internet freedom that occurred between June 2018 and May 2019 across 65 countries, which account for 87 percent of Internet users worldwide.

To know more : Freedom on the Net 2019

India, partly free

Aligning along with the decline in Global Internet Freedom is India too. Increase in arrests for online activity, continued internet shutdowns during times of perceived unrest, disinformation and its violent effects offline, data protection and surveillance issues were some of the key concerns marring India between June 2018 and May 2019.

Controversies around Aadhaar, the world’s largest biometric identification system, and a problematic draft data protection bill remains to be a major concern.  Manipulated content using bots and employed volunteers by incumbents and candidates alike during the 2019 elections pushed inorganic content increasing social tension for political gains. Though the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, and the news media are vibrant, harassment and violence against journalists has increased says the report.

To know more : India freedom on the Net 2019