The internet is one of the most important modern day media. People use the internet for various reasons including sharing ideas as well as mobilizing social, economic, and political change.
This new media, however, has stirred lots of controversy in both authoritarian and democratic states. Fearing the impact of the internet in mobilizing people to advocate for change, authoritarian governments use arrests, intimidation, as well as firewalls to prevent people from using the internet.
Even in democratic states where the freedom of expression is absolute, various challenges have arisen. These challenges have led to the implementation of restrictions that help to combat the legal, economic, and security challenges posed by the internet. Let’s have a look at internet freedom in 2019/2020 around the world.
Internet freedom events
There have been various events focusing on internet freedom this year. In the coming year, there are also lots of upcoming internet freedom events that you can attend to learn more about the fight against censorship. Some of these events include:
Internet Freedom Festival
The Internet Freedom Festival will be held between the 20th and the 24th of April 2020 in Valencia, Spain. This event brings together NGOs, governmental agencies, activist groups, media organizations, large internet platforms, and other interested parties whose goal is a free and open internet for all.
Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa 2019
FIFAfrica (Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa) 2019, is an event that was held on the 23rd and the 24th of September 2019, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. FIFAfrica is an event that brings together stakeholders form the online rights arena and internet governance from Africa and other continents. The forum discuses opportunities, gaps, and concerns for access to information, free flow of online content, non-discrimination, and free expression.
Internet freedom around the world
According to research, the global internet freedom has declined for the ninth consecutive year. Technology is slowly tilting towards digital authoritarianism as governments continue to use social media to monitor their citizens and manipulate the outcome of elections.
Another problem that the internet has presented is the meddling of country affairs by foreign regimes as politicians seek to distort politics at home. It was found that 26 out of the 30 countries that held elections in 2019 faced election interference through the online landscape.
2019 was the worst year for internet freedom in Asia in nearly a decade. Various governments across Asia are using a range of tactics to diminish online civic activism, expression, and secure communication.
An assessment conducted by Freedom on the Net, ten countries in Asia became less free. China retained the title of world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth year in a row. Bangladesh’s internet freedom also declined greatly as the government resorted to blocking news websites, arresting journalists, and restricting mobile networks. This was in a bid to control the mass protests organized by citizens before an election that was marred by violence.
Malaysia, however, recorded an improvement after the new coalition government kept its promise of improving internet freedom. In Asia, Japan has the best internet penetration but it struggles to protect privacy rights.
Governments around democratic and authoritarian countries in the world are using the internet to weaponized dissent. In Kenya, a number of citizens have been arrested in the past for alleged hate speech. The government also used the internet to manipulate and misinform citizens during the 2017 election season.
In neighbouring Uganda, the government introduced new licensing and registration requirements that compromise the anonymity of content producers. This has led to an increase in self-censorship. In June 2017, the Ugandan government sought for technical help from the Chinese government to prevent what they termed as “social media abuse.”
In the United Arab Emirates, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) banned Skype citing that it is unlicensed. The block is thought to be as a result of the loss of revenue that operators such as DU would face due to reduced demand for their services.
Protecting internet freedom in 2020
Discussed above are just a few examples of internet censorship around the world. Citizens in countries where internet freedom is limited are having to use various tactics to beat unfair government regulations. Some have to unblock websites by using VPN to access vital information from sites that are banned by the government.
Going forward internet-related laws should be checked so that they abide by international human rights standards. Additionally, the civil societies in all countries should stay alert and raise awareness on the early warning signs of government censorship and surveillance.
Aside from the civil society, tech companies should be on the frontline of protecting fundamental internet freedoms. They should also ensure that they are careful on the type of data that they give to the government, to ensure that it does not infringe on the rights of citizens. Finally, citizens should rise against unfair regulations, and continue developing technologies that help them beat censorship.