Trends on Internet Freedom

Freedom House reports that Internet freedom is generally down this year, continuing the trend of it being down in the last several years as well, disappointingly enough.

Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year.

Two-thirds of all internet users 67 percent live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship.

Internet freedom has declined for the sixth consecutive year, with more governments than ever before targeting social media and communication apps as a means of halting the rapid dissemination of information, particularly during anti-government protests.

Article from a media organization.

This year saw a notable crackdown on secure messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram. WhatsApp was blocked or restricted in 12 countries over the course of the year more than any other messaging app including in Bahrain, Bangladesh, and Ethiopia, where authorities blocked it in response to civilian protests. Telegram faced restrictions in four countries including China, where the government blocked the encrypted messaging service due to its rising popularity among human rights lawyers.

“Although the blocking of these tools affects everyone, it has an especially harmful impact on human rights defenders, journalists, and marginalized communities who often depend on these apps to bypass government surveillance,” Sanja Kelly, director and co-author of the Freedom on the Net 2016 report, said in a statement Monday.

According to Freedom House, 24 governments blocked or restricted access to social media sites and communication services in 2016, compared with 15 last year. Internet freedom declined in 34 of the 65 countries included in the report, most significantly in Uganda, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ecuador, and Libya. Both Brazil and Turkey had their rating downgraded to “partly free” and “not free,” respectively, following high-profile web crackdowns in each country.

In Egypt, a 22-year-old law student was sentenced to three years in prison for posting a photoshopped image of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with Mickey Mouse ears. A man in Turkey was later sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term for an image he created comparing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Gollum, from Lord of the Rings.

“When faced with humorous memes and cartoons of themselves, some world leaders are thin-skinned and lash out,” Kelly said in a statement. “Instead of enjoying a good laugh, they try to remove the images and imprison anyone posting them online.”