This blog note has also been published on CircleID in January 2020.
Digital Development and Freedom on the Net
On the 5th of November 2019, the release of the first of ITU’s Measuring Digital Development series coincided with Freedom House’s unveiling of its Freedom on Net 2019 report. This serendipity prompted me to write this blog note after carefully examining both reports.
On one hand, ITU’s analytical publication, with its new friendly format, emphasizes that Internet use continues to spread, warning however that the digital gender gap is widening. The estimated 4.1 billion people using the Internet in 2019 reflect a 5.3 per cent increase, confirming the trend of slowing global growth rates. More men than women use the Internet in every region of the world except the Americas, which has near-parity and 97 per cent of the world population now lives within reach of a mobile cellular signal, reveals the report, offering interesting snapshots of other important ICT indicators. With its global and regional perspectives, ITU’s Facts and Figures 2019 also recalls that most of the offline population (46 per cent of the world population) lives in least developed countries, Europe and Africa having the highest and lowest Internet usage rates, respectively.
On the other hand, the Freedom on the Net 2019 focusing on ‘the Crisis of Social Media’ comments that the Internet, once a liberating technology, has opened new conduits for surveillance and electoral manipulation. Internet Freedom Declines outnumber gains for the ninth consecutive year with Ethiopia recording the largest gains in 2019 following the election of a new Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, who loosened restrictions on the Internet and unblocked 260 websites. “Digital platforms are the new battleground for democracy and Internet freedom is increasingly imperiled by the tools and tactics of digital authoritarianism” notes the report recalling that of the 65 countries assessed, 33 have been on an overall decline since June 2018. The future of Internet freedom rests on our ability to fix social media, predicts the report offering series of recommendations to ‘fairly’ regulate a technology now pervasive in business, politics and personal lives.
The more we connect the World, the less free it becomes?