It documents the long failed history of attempts to place the nation's schools on a year-round calendar.
Key Findings Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States.
Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as did a rise in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media.
A record number of governments have restricted mobile internet service for political or security reasons, often in areas populated by ethnic or religious minorities. Governments around the world have dramatically increased their efforts to manipulate information on social media over the past year.
The Chinese and Russian regimes pioneered the use of surreptitious methods to distort online discussions and suppress dissent more than a decade ago, but the practice has since gone global.
Such state-led interventions present a major threat to the notion of the internet as a liberating technology. Online content manipulation contributed to a seventh consecutive year Is having a strong opposition vital overall decline in internet freedom, along with a rise in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media.
Nearly half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made gains, most of them minor. Less than one-quarter of users reside in countries where the internet is designated Free, meaning there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.
The number of governments attempting to control online discussions in this manner has risen each year since Freedom House began systematically tracking the phenomenon in But over the last few years, the practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated, with bots, propaganda producers, and fake news outlets exploiting social media and search algorithms to ensure high visibility and seamless integration with trusted content.
Unlike more direct methods of censorship, such as website blocking or arrests for internet activity, online content manipulation is difficult to detect. It is also more difficult to combat, given its dispersed nature and the sheer number of people and bots employed for this purpose.
The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating. The fabrication of grassroots support for government policies on social media creates a closed loop in which the regime essentially endorses itself, leaving independent groups and ordinary citizens on the outside.
And by bolstering the false perception that most citizens stand with them, authorities are able to justify crackdowns on the political opposition and advance antidemocratic changes to laws and institutions without a proper debate.
Worryingly, state-sponsored manipulation on social media is often coupled with broader restrictions on the news media that prevent access to objective reporting and render societies more susceptible to disinformation.
Successfully countering content manipulation and restoring trust in social media—without undermining internet and media freedom—will take time, resources, and creativity. The first steps in this effort should include public education aimed at teaching citizens how to detect fake or misleading news and commentary.
In addition, democratic societies must strengthen regulations to ensure that political advertising is at least as transparent online as it is offline. And tech companies should do their part by reexamining the algorithms behind news curation and more proactively disabling bots and fake accounts that are used for antidemocratic ends.
In the absence of a comprehensive campaign to deal with this threat, manipulation and disinformation techniques could enable modern authoritarian regimes to expand their power and influence while permanently eroding user confidence in online media and the internet as a whole.
Other key trends Freedom on the Net identified five other trends that significantly contributed to the global decline in internet freedom over the past year: State censors target mobile connectivity. An increasing number of governments have shut down mobile internet service for political or security reasons.
Half of all internet shutdowns in the past year were specific to mobile connectivity, with most others affecting mobile and fixed-line service simultaneously.
Many of the mobile shutdowns occurred in areas populated by minority ethnic or religious groups that have challenged the authority of the central government or sought greater rights, such as Tibetan areas in China and Oromo areas in Ethiopia. The actions cut off internet access for already marginalized people who depend on it for communication, commerce, and education.
More governments restrict live video. Considering that citizen journalists most often stream political protests on their mobile phones, governments in countries like Belarus have at times disrupted mobile connectivity specifically to prevent live-streamed images from reaching mass audiences.
Officials often justified their restrictions by noting that live streaming can be misused to broadcast nudity or violence, but blanket bans on these tools prevent citizens from using them for any purpose.
Technical attacks against news outlets, opposition, and rights defenders on the rise. Cyberattacks became more common due in part to the increased availability of relevant technology, which is sold in a weakly regulated market, and in part to inadequate security practices among many of the targeted groups or individuals.
The relatively low cost of cyberattack tools has enabled not only central governments, but also local government officials and law enforcement agencies to obtain and employ them against their perceived foes, including those who expose corruption and abuse. In many cases, such as in BahrainAzerbaijanMexicoand China, independent forensic analysts have concluded that the government was behind these attacks.
New restrictions on virtual private networks VPNs. Although VPNs are used for diverse functions—including by companies to enable employees to access corporate files remotely and securely—they are often employed in authoritarian countries as a means of bypassing internet censorship and accessing websites that are otherwise blocked.
This has made VPNs a target for government censors, with 14 countries now restricting the connections in some form and with six countries introducing new restrictions over the past year.
Physical attacks against netizens and online journalists expand dramatically. The number of countries that featured physical reprisals for online speech increased by 50 percent over the past year—from 20 to 30 of the countries assessed.
Online journalists and bloggers who wrote on sensitive topics and individuals who criticized or mocked prevailing religious beliefs were the most frequent targets.
In eight countries, people were murdered for their online expression. Several of the practices described above are clearly outside the bounds of the law, signaling a departure from the trend observed in previous years, when governments rushed to pass new laws that regulated internet activity and codified censorship tactics.Hey there!
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