Internet freedom 'in decline' for seventh consecutive year

Internet freedom 'in decline' for seventh consecutive year

Governments in 30 of these countries are using manipulation tools to distort online information, compared to 23 per cent past year.

Internet watchdog Freedom House said Tuesday (14 November) that social media had become a key battleground where paid trolls, Twitter bots and fake news websites now roam freely. In the Philippines, the government has employed a "keyboard army", who have the task of boosting news regarding the government's crackdown on drug dealing in the country. Although some governments sought to support their interests and expand their influence abroad-as with Russia's disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe-in most cases they used these methods inside their own borders to maintain their hold on power.

Fake news and the "aggressive trolling" of journalists both during and after the presidential election contributed to a score decline in the United States' otherwise generally free environment, the report said.

Looking ahead, Abramowitz and Freedom House warned about the rise of live video being restricted, with services like Facebook Live and Snapchat's Stories facing restrictions in at least nine countries, often to stop the streaming of anti-government protests like in Belarus.

The report also says there are no indications of any increase of restrictions on content or of self-censorship, and online debate is very active and open. "Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline".

The countries in question include Russian Federation, the USA, and China - with China being the worst abuser of internet freedoms for the third consecutive year. In Ethiopia, the government shut down mobile networks for almost two months as part of a state of emergency declared in October 2016 amid large-scale antigovernment protests.

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However, high prices for services, inadequate infrastructure, and slow internet speeds remain obstacles, particularly for those in rural areas or with low incomes.

Zero point equals the most internet free country, while the 100 point is the worst indicator.

New restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs): 14 countries now restrict tools used to circumvent censorship in some form and six countries introduced new restrictions, either legal bans or technical blocks on VPN websites or network traffic.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are protected by Estonia's constitution and by the country's obligations as a member state of the European Union.

According to research carried out by Freedom House, democratic integrity has only deteriorated in the past seven years, and as of June 2016 the countries most affected were Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey.

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