Myanmar and Belarus proved particularly low points in the report prepared by Freedom House, as global online rights declined for the 11th consecutive year in 2021.
According to a report, in the past year, a record number of Internet users in countries/regions have faced arrests and personal attacks for their posts, which paints a grim picture for digital freedom in 2021.
The annual “Internet Freedom” report released on Tuesday stated that Internet shutdowns in Myanmar and Belarus have proven to be particularly low, as global online rights have declined for the 11th consecutive year.
The survey was compiled by Freedom House, a US think tank, and scored 100 points for the degree of Internet freedom enjoyed by citizens of various countries, including the restrictions they face in accessing content.
Other factors include whether pro-government trolls are trying to manipulate online debate.
The report stated: “This year, users in 41 countries/regions faced personal attacks due to their online activities, which is a “record high” since tracking started 11 years ago.
For example, a Bangladeshi student was hospitalized after being beaten on social media for alleged “anti-government activities”, and a Mexican journalist was assassinated after posting a Facebook video accusing a gang of murders.
The report also found that in 56 of the 70 countries covered by the report, people were arrested or convicted for online activities—a record 80%.
These included two Egyptian influencers who were imprisoned in June for sharing TikTok videos that encouraged women to pursue careers on social media platforms.
After the military seized power in a coup in February and shut down the Internet, blocked social media and forced technology companies to hand over personal data, Myanmar was severely criticized in the report.
The Internet shutdown was also used to cut communications before the Uganda elections in January and after the disputed elections in Belarus in August last year.
In general, during the period covered by the survey, at least 20 countries blocked people’s Internet access between June 2020 and May 2021.
But this is not all bad news. Since Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh was deposed in 2017, Gambia has continued to maintain its trend of greater online freedom and has been praised for this.
Iceland topped the list, followed by Estonia and Costa Rica. This was the first country in the world to declare Internet access as a human right.
China’s worst criminal
On the other hand, China has been rated as the world’s most serious abuser of Internet freedom and has imposed heavy penalties on online dissidents.
But there are also bright spots. The report pointed out that the audio application Clubhouse provides users with “unprecedented space to discuss sensitive issues with people outside mainland China” until Beijing will block it in February 2021.
Globally, researchers accuse the government of using the regulation of technology companies for repressive purposes.
The researcher said: “In the high-risk battle between the state and technology companies, the rights of Internet users have become the main victims.”
According to the report, many governments are enacting laws to limit the enormous powers of tech giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook-some of which are reasonable measures to prevent monopolistic behavior.
But it called on countries including India and Turkey to pass legislation to order social media platforms to remove content that is considered offensive or disrupting public order, often using “vaguely defined” terms.
The report warns that legislation that forces tech giants to store local data on local servers, allegedly in the name of “sovereignty”, is increasing – and can easily be abused by authoritarian governments.
For example, according to a draft law in Vietnam, the authorities can access people’s personal data “with vaguely defined excuses related to national security and public order”.