Internet Freedom in Pakistan Declines

Yolanda Curtis
November 6, 2019

The Washington-based organization's Freedom Of The Net report, released on November 5, documented growing attempts by populist leaders and their allies to distort domestic politics.

The report surveyed 65 countries and concluded that 33 of them had an overall decline in their internet freedom score compared to a year earlier.

Social media surveillance programs were identified in 40 of the 65 countries the report examined.

The heart and soul of the Freedom on the Net report is always its country-by-country assessment as this gives the clearest assessment of the online freedom trends we are seeing around the world.

"Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship", Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, said in a statement accompanying the annual report.

As reported by Bloomberg, Adrian Shahbaz, Freedom House's research director and author of the study, explained how techniques now used by countries to spread disinformation and monitor speech online will inevitably continue to evolve as new technologies become more readily available, such as artificial intelligence.

Freedom House also criticized disrupted connections during anti-government protests and "new categories of online expression that were grounds for both content removals and criminal penalties" in Russian Federation.

"Law enforcement and immigration agencies expanded their surveillance of the public, eschewing oversight, transparency, and accountability mechanisms that might restrain their actions", the report said.

Researchers said social media and communication applications were blocked by at least 20 governments and cellular networks were disrupted in 38 of the 65 countries over the past year.

Freedom House noted that the world's leading social media platforms are based in the U.S., which means that a large part of their exploitation was due to American neglect. These are topics that continue to dominate the news cycle, whether it's Fb's advert coverage that permits politicians to spread lies or Amazon's rising relationships with police departments that use its Ring good doorbells and related social media merchandise to surveil communities.

The biggest declines were in Sudan and Kazakhstan, followed by Brazil, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. "This is the only way to stop the internet from becoming a Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression", wrote Adrian Shahbaz, one of the authors of the report.

China was ranked as the world's worst abuser of internet freedom for a fourth consecutive year, after it enhanced information controls in the face of anti-government protests in Hong Kong and ahead of the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen Square. In a number of troubling cases, the monitoring targeted constitutionally protected activities such as peaceful protests and newsgathering. On the other hand, the region is now utilizing worldwide platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to unfold disinformation which the research notes "should elevate issues for democracies". Often working in tandem with government-friendly media personalities and business magnates, semiautonomous online mobs transmitted conspiracy theories, inflammatory views, and misleading memes from marginal echo chambers to the political mainstream.

The report also elaborates how these governments are taking advantage of data collected by all this surveillance and the results are scary.

Other religious minorities, such as adherents of Falun Gong, have also been jailed in recent years for online activities, including accessing websites banned in China, and posting messages about human rights abuses on Chinese social media.

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