The year 2016 did not witness any improvement in Internet freedom the world over. In fact, according to a recent report, it has declined this year with only a quarter of the world’s Internet users enjoying free access to it. China fared the worst when it came to Internet freedom, the report says.
Censorship on criticism
Freedom on the Net 2016 shows that two-thirds of all Internet users — 67 per cent — live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship. The report, published annually by Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation working on issues of democracy and rights, says social media users faced unprecedented penalties this year, as authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts.
Globally, 27 per cent of all Internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely “liking” content on Facebook. Governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely, the report says.
Curbs on WhatsApp
WhatsApp faced the most restrictions, with 12 out of 65 countries blocking the entire service or disabling certain features, affecting millions of its one billion users worldwide, during the period of the study from June 2015 to May 2016.
How India fared
India scored 41/100 in the Internet freedom score — where 0 stands for best and 100 stands for worst — and is classified as “partly free” by the organisation. While the country fared better than China with a score of 88/100, the report cited several examples of Indian citizens being denied free access to the Internet.
Authorities ordered service providers to temporarily shut down local mobile Internet service in at least 23 separate reported cases, purportedly to prevent unrest or even cheating in an exam. At least 17 people were arrested for information circulated on WhatsApp, including group administrators based on content shared by other group members, the report says.
The report cites the killing of journalist Joginder Singh in Uttar Pradesh by assailants who set him on fire after he posted allegations about a local official’s wrongdoing on Facebook. In India, feminist-activist Japleen Pasricha conducted a survey of 500 social media users and interviewed 10 of the respondents to highlight harassment of women on social media. The study found that online abuse is a serious issue in India, affecting more than half of survey respondents, yet women and other targets lack support and understanding as to how to respond effectively.
Only a third of the respondents had reported harassment to law enforcement; among them, 38 per cent characterised the response as “not at all helpful,” the report says.