Power shifts from Big Tech as government crackdown on the internet intensifies

Data: House of Liberty »Freedom of the Net 2021“report; Graphic: Jacque Schrag / Axios

Internet freedom around the world has fallen for the 11th year in a row, according to an annual report of Freedom House, a non-profit organization focused on expanding freedom and democracy.

Why is this important: The findings suggest that a broader transfer of power from tech companies to nation states over the past year has resulted in a “record crackdown” on free speech online.

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Details: The report finds that government officials in 56 of the 70 countries measured have arrested or convicted people for their online speech. (The 70 countries measured represent 88% of Internet users worldwide.)

  • A total of 21 states have blocked access to social media platforms, usually amid political unrest, protests and elections.

  • Speech on Facebook, the largest of all social media apps in the world, is by far the most targeted by government officials. Countries with autocratic regimes generally tend to target social media more frequently.

The big picture: The findings reflect a broader global challenge of balancing the promises of the internet and social media with broader risks to society, including the erosion of truth.

What to watch: More governments around the world are introducing regulations to take power back from tech companies, but the report’s authors note that “users understandably lack confidence” that these efforts will protect their rights.

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