Global internet freedom has declined for the 12th consecutive year, largely due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to a Freedom House report released Tuesday.
Russia saw the steepest decline among the 70 countries assessed in the report, hitting an all-time high in the organization’s 12-year tracking. The drop came after the country invaded Ukraine in February.
The Kremlin blocked mainstream social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as more than 5,000 websites, according to the report.
“The brazen invasion of Ukraine by the Russian government has been the main driver behind the decline of global internet freedom. It had a huge impact,” said Kian Vesteinsson, Freedom House senior research analyst and co-author of the report.
Russia’s invasion has also undermined internet freedom in Ukraine, he said. Russian troops forced service providers to redirect internet traffic through Russian networks in the spring and summer in an effort that left Ukrainian users without access to international social media platforms and news sites, the report said. .
“The Russian government is undeniably responsible for the decline of internet freedom in Ukraine,” Vesteinsson said.
Myanmar, Sudan, and Libya are other countries that have reported steep declines in internet freedom. Overall, people in at least 53 countries have faced legal repercussions for speaking out online, according to the report.
The report measures and scores internet freedom in 70 countries, which represent 89% of internet users worldwide, based on their barriers to access, content limits and violations of user rights. The report assessed developments between June 2021 and May 2022.
The Freedom House report also found that a record number of national governments blocked websites with nonviolent political, social or religious content.
“There has always been a degree of fracture along national borders, but we are seeing the fragmentation of the internet accelerating at a rapid rate. More governments than ever are trying to isolate internet users in their country from people based around the world,” Vesteinsson said.
In the United States, internet freedom “has improved slightly” for the first time in six years, according to the report. This increase is due to fewer reported cases of targeted surveillance and online harassment during protests compared to the previous year.
But the report still slams the lack of a comprehensive federal privacy law in the United States, a topic that gained momentum in Congress earlier this year but failed to gain traction. a floor vote in both chambers, and the online environment ‘riddled with’ political misinformation and conspiracy theories ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
The United States was not alone in seeing an increase in reported internet freedom. According to the report, a record 26 countries have seen improvements in internet freedom over the past year.
“There is room for optimism here,” Vesteinsson said. “The key to all of these victories that we have seen is the effort of civil society. It is really these non-profits, media groups and activists who are on the front lines pushing others to protect human rights online. They have played a leading role in raising awareness of these issues. It is truly essential that we build on this momentum and seek to protect internet freedom in the years to come. »
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