Global internet freedom declined for the 13th consecutive year in 2023 according to the Freedom on the Net report. Of the 70 countries covered in the Freedom on the Net, conditions for human rights online deteriorated in 29, while only 20 countries registered overall gains.
Internet freedom is being repressed in all corners of the world
According to the report, attacks on free expression grew more common around the world.
“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, according to the Freedom on the Net report, occurred in Myanmar and Iran, whose authoritarian regimes carried out death sentences against people convicted of online expression-related crimes.
China, for the 9th year in a row, remains the country with the world’s worst environment for internet freedom though Myanmar came close to surpassing it.
Other countries that recorded the largest decline in internet freedom were in Philippines followed by Belarus, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, where people faced arrest for simply expressing themselves online.
Governments in a record 41 countries resorted to censoring political, social, or religious content.
“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 antigovernment protests”.
Use of generative artificial intelligence (AI) to fuel disinformation
The report raises concerns of the use of generative AI to fuel disinformation and also allow governments to fuel their online censorships.
“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”.
Use of AI for online censorship
The Freedom on the Net report further states that world’s most technically advanced authoritarian governments are taking advantage of innovations in AI chatbot technology to strengthen their censorship systems. A record 41 governments reportedly blocked websites with content that should be protected under free expression standards within international human rights law.
“Purveyors of disinformation are employing AI-generated images, audio, and text, making the truth easier to distort and harder to discern. Sophisticated surveillance systems rapidly trawl social media for signs of dissent, and massive datasets are paired with facial scans to identify and track pro-democracy protesters”.
The report however urges that with proper utilization, 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.
“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“.
Democratic policymakers should establish a positive regulatory vision for the design and deployment of AI tools that is grounded in human rights standards, transparency, and accountability.