Internet Freedom Declined, IM Apps Targeted In 2016

Censorship is a big problem in most parts of the world, and this issue is even more pronounced in the Internet era when governments can hardly secretly interfere with people's information sources and communications channels. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop them from indulging in such practices. According to a study called Freedom on the Net conducted by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization, Internet freedom has declined on a global level for the sixth year in a row. The NGO found that more than two-thirds of all Internet users still live in countries where governments are actively practicing censorship while 38 countries made arrests based on critical posts on social media in 2016. Generally speaking, 27% of Internet users are ruled by governments which arrested people for publishing, sharing, or even liking content on Facebook in the past.

Apart from censorship of traditional and social media, another related trend in 2016 pertains to governments going after communications apps. According to Freedom House, instant messaging (IM) solutions were routinely censored in 2016, with WhatsApp facing the most restrictions out of all available IM apps. It's presumed that government prone to censorship block mobile communications solutions because the thereof can be used for disseminating unwanted information in a quick and secure manner. In other words, they can't be controlled, only prevented from functioning. The said apps were facing heaviest pressure during anti-government protests when certain governments reportedly even shut down all Internet access to limit the spread of unwanted information.

Freedom House concludes these findings are further proof of how important social media and IM apps are for promoting freedom of expression and other human rights, as well as general political freedom. In addition to political censorship, the said study found that certain video and voice communications apps were partially limited solely for economic reasons. For example, several countries are currently restricting access to Skype to prevent users from migrating from traditional mobile and fixed-line services offered by national telecommunications providers. Interestingly enough, despite Internet freedom being at an all-time low, Freedom House reports that online activism reached new heights in 2016 as over two-thirds of the countries encompassed went through some visible changes thanks to the efforts of Internet activists. For more details on Freedom of the Net, check out the infographics in the gallery below.

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About the Author
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Dominik Bosnjak

Head Editor
Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016 and is the Head Editor of the site today. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]