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Internet freedom around the world has fallen for the 8th year in a row

November 2, 2018

Digital authoritarianism is on the rise as governments crack down on online freedom, according to a new report. And that includes the US.

The main findings: Internet freedom fell in the US, owing largely to the repeal of net neutrality laws, according to the report from think tank Freedom House. Of the 65 countries assessed, 26 experienced a drop in online freedom, with almost half of all declines relating to elections. Half used paid commentators, bots, and trolls to try to manipulate online conversations. Almost a third of the countries passed or proposed new laws to restrict online media, citing the fight against “fake news.” There was also an increase in surveillance by 18 governments, many of which are working to weaken encryption to gain unfettered access to data.

Lessons from China: China had the worst record of any country in 2018. Its officials help to train other countries in digital authoritarianism, holding seminars with representatives from 36 out of the 65 countries assessed. It’s a statistic that doesn’t bode well for the future.

However, it’s not all bad news … Social media, apps, and live-streaming services all helped enable a peaceful revolution in Armenia this year. The report’s authors also pointed to Ethiopia, where a new prime minister has released bloggers from prison and promised to ease restrictions on online communication.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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