Internet Freedom Is Declining, But It’s More Important Than Ever

internet freedom social control digital divide

Internet access has become more than just a luxury, it’s now a necessity. With in-person socializing limited, many activities are now transitioning to being fully automated online. But with a lack of concrete policies surrounding privacy, information sharing and restricted access, entities in power are changing the dynamic of the digital world to build new forms of social control.

Online narratives are being censored, digital access is being denied, and an echo chamber of similar thinking is being promoted over reliable access to varied and verified information. This isn’t just becoming an issue in the United States, the issue is linear across national borders. Governments are aiming to impose their own version of internet regulations, effectively cutting off free flow access to new ideas and current events from other countries.

As we saw earlier this year with protests in Hong Kong, limiting access to free speech creates a digital divide that affects the social order of the communities in question. When public and private interests clash, these sorts of conflicts can become commonplace.

For the 10th year in a row global internet freedom has declined, according to a study done by Freedom On The Net. Human rights online were judged by court rulings, the overall sum of which was represented as Free, Partly Free, and Not Free blow.

freedom on the net internet graphic
Source: Freedom House, Freedom On The Net 2020

While China was found to have the worst overall internet freedom conditions for the sixth year in a row, the United States was ranked as the top 7th out of 65 countries around the globe. Despite the high-seeming ranking, it marks the fourth consecutive year that the United States has declined in rank.

Some of the contributing factors that influence a lack of online freedom consist of suppressing, deleting or blocking unwanted information from being seen by internet users. During this health crisis alone, many of us have seen inaccurate statistics, reporting, and vague information about the virus as it unfolded before our eyes. Digital citizens are kept in the dark, impeding their ability to gain timely information about issues that will affect their day-to-day living.

In more restricted countries, total internet service shutdowns can be commonplace. This may affect access to health care, education, or other necessary services for the duration of the shutdown. A disruption of this magnitude forces more hardships on those who depend on access to technology in order to receive basic care.

Journalists, activists, and other critics of these policies are often arrested, criminally charged or socially punished for speaking out against restrictive practices. As the freedom of expression should be inherent to all, it’s important that we ensure the information environment remains free, open, and safe for discussion.

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Written by Emily M.

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