The Internet Has Never Been Less Free And AI Is Making It Worse

The Internet Has Never Been Less Free And AI Is Making It Worse

The Expose | Rhoda Wilson

Globally, internet freedom has never been lower, and the number of countries that have blocked websites for political, social, and religious speech has never been higher. Also, the number of countries that arrested people for online expression reached a record high, according to a report released last week by human rights advocacy group Freedom House.

Additionally, the report shows that governments in 16 countries are using generative artificial intelligence (“AI”) to manipulate conversations and automatically censor what’s online.  Governments in Pakistan, Nigeria and the United States have used generative AI over the past year to exert increased control over the internet.

Freedom on the Net 2023 Scores

You can view a list of scores given to each of the 70 countries included in Freedom House’s report:

Freedom House assesses the level of internet freedom in 70 countries around the world through its annual Freedom on the Net report. Click on a country name below to access the full country narrative report.

While internet freedom may be primarily affected by state behaviour, Freedom House states, actions by nonstate actors, including technology companies – are also considered. Thus, the index ratings generally reflect the interplay of a variety of actors, both governmental and non-governmental.

Scores are allocated according to obstacles to access, limits to content and violations of user’s rights.  Scores between 100-70 are denoted as “Free,” scores between 69-40 are “Partly Free” and scores between 39-0 are denoted as “Not Free.”

Sadly, the bar for “free” is not very high.  For example, the UK is rated as “free” as it scored 79 despite the censorship, vilification, spying and intelligence gathering of citizens that oppose the “official narrative” by both state and non-state actors.  Although to be fair, the UK only just sneaked into the “free” category.  That the UK scored 79 perhaps indicates how bad freedom of the internet is in other countries.

Countries: Freedom House assesses the level of internet freedom in 70 countries around the world through its annual Freedom on the Net report. Source: Freedom House

Interestingly, Canada scored 88 attaining the third-highest score after Estonia and Iceland.  The recent despotic censorship in Canada possibly falls outside the period Freedom House reviewed, which appears to largely include developments for the year June 2022 to 31 May 2023. “While a recent law raised concerns that the [Canadian] government could seek to significantly expand its regulatory authority over online content, such concerns did not materialise during the coverage period,” Freedom House noted.

Glenn Greenwald is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times best-selling books on politics and law.  Below he gives his thoughts on the despotic new censorship law in Canada using articles published by Michael Geist on the Canadian C-11 Bill.

(Please note: In the video below, Greenwald uses the word “Liberals” to describe people on the political left.  Liberal describes a set of values rather than a political term, irrespective of what words political parties use in their name or to describe themselves.  Liberal roughly equates to “free” and are values that the majority of people on both the political left and political right possess.  The proponents of Canada’s C-11 Bill are not portraying liberal values, they are portraying anti-liberal values.)
Glenn Greenwald: Trudeau and His Govt Lie About Despotic New Censorship Law in Canada, 3 October 2023 (18 mins)

If the video above is removed from YouTube, you can watch it on Rumble HERE.  You can find the full episodes of Greenwald’s podcasts via THIS link.  The full episode from which the above clip was taken can be watched on Rumble HERE.

Freedom on the Net 2023 Report: Key Findings

In its key findings, Freedom House noted:

Digital repression intensified in Iran, home to this year’s worst decline, as authorities shut down internet service, blocked WhatsApp and Instagram, and increased surveillance in a bid to quell anti-government protests.

Myanmar came close to dislodging China as the world’s worst environment for internet freedom, a title the latter country retained for the ninth consecutive year.

Conditions worsened in the Philippines as outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte used an anti-terrorism law to block news sites that had been critical of his administration.

Costa Rica’s status as a champion of internet freedom has been imperilled after the election of a president whose campaign manager hired online trolls to harass several of the country’s largest media outlets.

In a record 55 of the 70 countries covered by Freedom on the Net, people faced legal repercussions for expressing themselves online, while people were physically assaulted or killed for their online commentary in 41 countries. The most egregious cases occurred in Myanmar and Iran, whose authoritarian regimes carried out death sentences against people convicted of online expression-related crimes.

In Belarus and Nicaragua, where protections for internet freedom plummeted during the coverage period, people received draconian prison terms for online speech, a core tactic employed by longtime dictators Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Daniel Ortega in their violent campaigns to stay in power.

At least 47 governments deployed commentators to manipulate online discussions in their favour during the coverage period, double the number from a decade ago.

Meanwhile, AI-based tools that can generate text, audio, and imagery have quickly grown more sophisticated, accessible, and easy to use, spurring a concerning escalation of these disinformation tactics. Over the past year, the new technology was utilized in at least 16 countries to sow doubt, smear opponents, or influence public debate.

The world’s most technically advanced authoritarian governments have responded to innovations in AI chatbot technology, attempting to ensure that the applications comply with or strengthen their censorship systems. Legal frameworks in at least 21 countries mandate or incentivize digital platforms to deploy machine learning to remove disfavoured political, social, and religious speech.

AI, however, has not completely displaced older methods of information control. A record 41 governments blocked websites with content that should be protected under free expression standards within international human rights law. Even in more democratic settings, including the United States and Europe, governments considered or actually imposed restrictions on access to prominent websites and social media platforms, an unproductive approach to concerns about foreign interference, disinformation, and online safety.

AI can serve as an amplifier of digital repression, making censorship, surveillance, and the creation and spread of disinformation easier, faster, cheaper, and more effective. An over-reliance on self-regulation by private companies has left people’s rights exposed to a variety of threats in the digital age, and a shrinking of resources in the tech sector could exacerbate the deficiency. To protect the free and open internet, democratic policymakers – working side by side with civil society experts from around the world – should establish strong human rights-based standards for both state and non-state actors that develop or deploy AI tools.


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