Freedom of opinion and Internet freedom worldwide: blocked more and more
The new UNESCO report on freedom of expression in the world draws a disastrous conclusion for the year 2017: The Internet is increasingly being shut down by states. But social networks are also increasingly the target of blockades worldwide. But what role do they themselves play in this? An insight.
At the beginning of November, UNESCO presented its report “Worldwide Trends – Freedom of Opinion and Media Development”. The finding: In 2017, there were already 61 blockades of the Internet by governments worldwide. That is three times as many “shutdowns” of the Internet in the current year as in 2015 with 18. However, the most frequent blockades were registered last year with 116 Internet blockades worldwide. Most of these were implemented in Asian countries. The report leads India with 54 and Pakistan with 11 blockades. A relaxation of freedom of opinion and media freedom does not seem to be in sight in terms of global development. The authors warn of the restriction of freedom of information and communication not only through mass surveillance, but also through the lack of independence from media and the increasing algorithm-based weighting of news in social networks.
One country that has been prominent in German media in recent years with the blocking, not of the entire Internet but of platforms, is Turkey. There, for example, Twitter and YouTube were temporarily unavailable in 2015, ostensibly to prevent the dissemination of images of a hostage-taking, and in 2016 Facebook as well, in the wake of the attempted coup. Only last week, however, the portal netzpolitik.org reported the loss of friends and followers among people and pages on Facebook who were critical of Turkey. The network’s response to the enquiry was that action had been taken against fake accounts among the respective followers. Even if contrary reports, many identified as people. Even if it cannot be proven, it seems that the social network is taking measures in anticipatory obedience in order to avoid further state regulation in authoritarian states, such as Turkey.
We at politik-digital have also reported several times in recent years (e.g. 2015 and 2017) on the critical and opaque practice of deleting or blocking social networks, especially Facebook and Twitter. The technology portal t3n tried to break down the key figures in the middle of the year, naturally from their observer perspective. One can only speculate about the algorithms of the networks and thus the criteria according to which these contributions show or hide. Thus, in addition to the social bots, a possible danger for the democratic discourse on the Internet is developing. While the measures to unmask social bots are still in their infancy, and the first steps are being taken at the political level – such as an obligation to label social bots – the phenomenon of unknown social media algorithms has been recognised by the media, but no feasible solutions have yet been proposed by politicians and administrators – due to the transnational corporations. It therefore requires constant monitoring and attentive analysis in order to contain the danger to freedom of opinion and media worldwide.