2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom

  • Wired | by: ISSIE LAPOWSKY |
  • 12/30/2017
THINK OF A country that stifles internet freedom. You might first jump to the oppressive regimes of North Korea, China, or Cuba, where internet access is either forbidden or radically restricted. But in fact, according to a recent study by the non-profit Freedom House, the principles of internet freedom are under attack worldwide—including in the United States. And it's only getting worse.

Overt government restrictions, after all, aren't the only way to impede internet freedom. As fake news and propaganda flourish online, and automated bot accounts bloom on social media, the manipulation and distortion of information serves as its own kind of censorship.

The crisis is global. Freedom House based its findings on an annual study of 65 countries, in which the group's researchers collect data on factors like ready access to the internet in that country, limits on content, intentional manipulation of online conversations, and the treatment of bloggers and content creators, among other details. Researchers then score each country based on those metrics. In 2017, it found that nearly half of the 65 countries experienced a decline since June of 2016, while just 13 made gains. It was the seventh consecutive year in which internet freedom has eroded since Freedom House began studying this trend in 2011.

That means that internet freedom has long experienced a global decline. But according to Adrian Shahbaz, a Freedom House research manager, the unprecedented rise of state-sponsored manipulation and election meddling online was unique to 2017, and may prove much harder to fix than other ills. "Manipulation is much more difficult to detect and combat than other types of censorship because of how dispersed it is, and the sheer amount of people engaged in it," he says.

Comparatively speaking, US citizens still have it good. The United States remains one of just 16 countries described in the report as "free." But that freedom faces increasing threats, largely due to the metastatic spread of fake news during the 2016 presidential election. Major platforms like Facebook and Twitter do take a hands-off approach to what people are allowed to say online. But the report contends that phony stories promoted by bot armies and fake accounts end up silencing real people who might otherwise contribute to online conversation.

Comments

Privacy Policy

2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom is dedicated to protecting consumer privacy on the Internet. Our practices are consistent with privacy guidelines established by eTrust.com.

2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom does not require any personal information to obtain access to our website.

2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom does require limited personal information including name and mailing address from individuals wishing to join as members. Additional information such as e-mail address and phone number may also be requested in order that we may contact members in a timely manner on issues related to our mission.

You will only receive e-mail from us if you request to be added to our e-mail list. You may revise or remove your e-mail address from our files at any time.

2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom uses "cookie" technology to obtain non-personal information from our online visitors, such as browser/computer type, number of visitors, and site usage. We do not use cookies to extract personal information.

Our website contains links to other sites, but 2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom does not necessarily advocate, support or condone the privacy practices or content of these websites.

2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom makes all information received from our online visitors as secure as possible against unauthorized access and use. All information is protected by state-of-the-art security technology.

2017 Was a Terrible Year For Internet Freedom respects the individual privacy rights and concerns of visitors to our website. We support meaningful self-regulation of the Internet to ensure that responsible organizations maintain the right to use all communications media to interact with the public.