The global internet freedom has declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2019. This is according to a report done by Freedom House, a non-profit human rights advocacy organization.
According to this report, freedom of the internet has been endangered by digital authoritarianism. This means that repressive regimes have exploited the unregulated spaces of social media platforms and converted them into instruments for political distortion and societal control.
Social media’s original use was to serve as a level playing field for civic discussions and generate content for social networking, which is used for still today, but as the report highlights, it is moving towards illiberalism, denying users their fundamental freedom of expression and privacy. This is shown by the sheer size of governments using it to identify and monitor users on an immense scale. As a result, what was once a liberating technology has become a conduit for surveillance and electoral manipulation.
Social media allows ordinary people, civic groups, and journalists to reach a vast audience at little or no cost. For some, social media is their livelihood.
The report also says, “Social media has also made it easy for people especially elected incumbents with authoritarian ambitions, and unscrupulous partisan operatives lace their political messaging with false or inflammatory content and coordinate its dissemination across multiple platforms. This is through the use of both authentic and fraudulent or automated accounts.”
As the report shows, in 38 of the 65 countries, political leaders have employed individuals to secretly shape online opinions. Social media had facilitated the dissemination of propaganda and disinformation during election periods and enabled the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data on populations.
Research indicates that repressive governments are acquiring social media surveillance tools that employ artificial intelligence to identify perceived threats and silence undesirable expression. Also, there have been instances of mass monitoring, even in democracies, without the necessary data protection and privacy laws. The result is an increase in human rights violations and a dwindling online space for civic activism. Of the 65 countries assessed in this report, a record 47 featured arrests of users for political, social, or religious speech.
The report recommends that the only way to fix this is to have strong laws that protect online democratic freedoms so as this very important space is not used for “tyranny and oppression.”
As at now Kenya’s freedom of the net is partially free.