The rising monitoring of social media accounts, scouring through travellers’ phones at the United States’ border, and the increased distribution of false information are some of the main causes for the drop in internet freedom rankings of the U.S.
According to non-profit democracy and human rights group, Freedom House, although the United States supposedly boasts some of the best internet freedoms globally, its position in ranking around the world has dropped for the third consecutive year.
While some countries such as Estonia and Iceland sit at the top of the rankings, Iran and China maintain the most restrictive internet freedoms worldwide.
The report from Freedom House suggests that digital mediums such as social media sites are becoming a “new battleground” for democracy. Recently, false claims and prejudice advertising have been implemented to sway the public’s perception of the truth amongst elections in many countries, such as this year’s European Parliament elections and last year’s United States midterm elections.
“Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship,” says the President of Freedom House, Mike Abramowitz.
“A Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression”
Fake news is a factor that affects the government as well as the general public. With disinformation growing rapidly into a more serious problem, lawmakers are looking to establish legislation to combat the issue. But according to Freedom House, some governments – including the United States – have employed social media sites for their own self-beneficial uses.
“Law enforcement and immigration agencies expanded their surveillance of the public, eschewing oversight, transparency, and accountability mechanisms that might restrain their actions,” the report claims.
The breach of personal privacy by means of searching through travellers’ devices without permission or court approval has also played a part in the diminished internet freedom rankings of the United States. A few months ago, a student who had a scholarship to Harvard was denied entry into the U.S when border authorities investigated the young man’s phone, and disapproved of posts on social media that were made by his friend.
“The future of internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media,” says Adrian Shahbaz, Research Director for Technology and Democracy at Freedom House.
Shahbaz says that the United States needs to become a shining example in promoting transparency and accountability, as the majority of social media companies are based in the U.S.
“This is the only way to stop the internet from becoming a Trojan horse for tyranny and oppression,” said Shahbaz.