A leading non-profit watchdog that ranks countries for their internet freedom has highlighted the rise in social media surveillance around the world.
The U.S. has dropped in its Internet freedom rankings for the third time in a row due in large part to the increase in disinformation spread throughout the country online.
Global online freedom, meanwhile, has dropped for the ninth consecutive year.
On the top of the list of Freedom House's Freedom on the Net report is Iceland, which had no civil or criminal cases against Internet users for online expression, and Estonia.
The U.S. is relatively high on the list, though it has been getting progressively worse over the past few years.
At the bottom sits China and Iran, whose citizens are ranked as having the least free Internet. The rankings are based on how many restrictions governments apply to the Internet and to social media.
Notable exceptions from the report were Spain and Chile, which have both seen civil unrest and enormous protests in recent weeks.
We need to fix social media
The Freedom House report says social media, and other digital platforms, are the “new battleground” for democratic forces.
“Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.
Ever since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it has been clear that governments are using public data to affect election results. As per the report, the solution can be found in fixing social media.
Over the past year, Freedom House assessed 65 countries for their report. In 47 of these, law enforcement arrested people for posting political, social, or religious messages online.
Forty countries were shown to have implemented advanced social media surveillance programs. In 38 countries, meanwhile, political leaders employed services and individuals to help them shape online opinions using social media.
“In addition to facilitating the dissemination of propaganda and disinformation during election periods, social media platforms have enabled the collection and analysis of vast amounts of data on entire populations,” the report explains. “The future of internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media.”