Study: Russia Leads Worldwide Drop in Internet Freedom

People watch on a large screen, as Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his speech after a ceremony to sign the treaties for four regions of Ukraine to join Russia in Moscow’s Kremlin, during a meeting in Sevastopol, Crimea, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022. (AP Photo)
Russia Leads Worldwide Drop in Internet Freedom

A study has found that Russian information restrictions led a worldwide drop in internet freedom across the world during the past year.

The research was carried out by Freedom House. The nonprofit organization is largely financed by U.S. government agencies. Freedom House released the results on Tuesday.

On its website, Freedom House said it seeks to publicize the idea that “freedom flourishes in democratic nations where governments are accountable to their people.”

Each year, the organization completes a report that rates the levels of internet freedom in 70 nations.

The organization said its research covers about 89 percent of the world’s internet user population. Just 18 percent of internet users are identified as living in countries with a “free” internet. About 37 percent live in nations where the internet is “not free.” And 34 percent are in places where it is “partly free,” the report says.

This year, Freedom House said that overall, internet freedom decreased across the world for the 12th straight year. The report covered June 2021 to May 2022. The nations found to have the least internet freedom were Russia, Myanmar, Sudan and Libya. The countries with the most internet freedom were Iceland, Estonia, Costa Rica, Canada and Taiwan.

In at least 53 countries, users faced legal actions for expressing themselves online, the group said. In many cases, such legal actions can lead to long prison terms.

In Russia, the government sharply intensified “ongoing efforts” to limit dissent within the country after its invasion of Ukraine, Freedom House said. The efforts led to the closure or exile of some of the country’s remaining independent media companies.

The report notes that a record number of national governments “blocked websites with nonviolent political, social, or religious content.” This action threatened citizens’ basic rights to free expression and access to information. A majority of these digital blocks targeted operations outside the government’s country, the report said.

New national laws also presented additional threats to the free flow of information. Some of these laws sought to centralize technical equipment and establish rules to limit content on social media services.

On the other hand, the report said a record 26 nations showed improvements in their internet freedom. The group credits “civil society organizations in many countries” for improving the situation. It added that such organizations helped “develop media resilience and ensure accountability among technology companies.”

In the United States, Freedom House said internet freedom “improved marginally” for the first time in six years. The U.S. improvement came partly because there were fewer reported cases of targeted government surveillance during widespread protests that took place the year before.

The group noted that the U.S. still lacks a major federal privacy law and there was “little progress on the passage of other legislation related to internet freedom.” Freedom House has long called for such government rules.

The report named China as the world’s worst environment for internet freedom for the eighth straight year. Censorship in the country intensified during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. It also increased after tennis star Peng Shuai accused a high-level Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official of sexual abuse.

In a separate report released last month, Freedom House said China had also taken steps in recent years to expand official efforts to influence media in a series of countries. The report examined how Chinese influence affected media organizations in 30 democracies across the world. It said that between 2019 and 2021, China intensified influence campaigns in 18 of the 30 countries.

China’s main goal, Freedom House said, is to influence public opinion in its favor, sometimes as a way to get support for its investment activities in the target countries.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from Agence-France Presse, Freedom House and VOA News.


Words in This Story

flourish – v. to grow or develop well

accountable – adj. being responsible for what you do and being able to explain your actions

access – n. the ability to find or see something

resilience – n. strong enough to recover quickly after damage, illness, shock, etc.

marginal – adj. small and not important

surveillance – n. the careful watching of a person or place

censorship – n. the system or practice of censoring books, movies, letters, etc.