Published by Freedom House, “Freedom on the Net 2019: The Crisis of Social Media” reveals that 2019 represents the ninth consecutive year in which global internet freedom has declined. The unregulated spaces of social media have created an environment in which repressive governments launch domestic and foreign influence operations and monitor users. The report examines 65 countries, and finds that in 38 of those countries, politicians hired individuals to “surreptitiously shape online opinions.” Beyond promulgating propaganda and disinformation, the report also finds that wide-scale monitoring and data collection led 47 countries to arrest social media users on the basis of inflammatory or threatening political, social, or religious speech.” In addition to discussing the alarming undercurrents of social media, this year’s edition of “Freedom on the Net” also delves into the global decline as a whole, the role of big data, and all the statistics in between. At the global level, some notable highlights include the following:
- China is the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year.
- Iceland is the world’s best protector of internet freedom.
- Internet freedom declined in the United States for the third consecutive year.
- Out of 65 countries, only 16 countries marginally improved their internet freedom scores.
The authors challenge the United States to lead the way in fixing social media and rallying others to defend an open internet via new technologies such as advanced biometrics, artificial intelligence, and fifth-generation mobile networks. It is a slippery slope. While new technologies certainly create new pathways for development and innovation, the report is truly concerned about the risks to civil liberties and human rights. As such, “strong protections for democratic freedoms are necessary to ensure that the internet does not become a Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression.”
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Author: Kendall Scherr