In 2016, the United Nations declared internet access a human right. About two out of three people in the world have access to the internet, but that doesn’t mean it’s equal, safe or free from censorship.
In some countries, citizens are restricted on where they can go and what they can read online. The Internet is often used as a weapon by governments to stifle the spread of dissenting opinions or information that directly contradicts the interests of the state. Internet access is usually one of the first things to be cut off during protests or civil unrest. Like a fire without oxygen, revolutions large and small can be extinguished when restrictions on social media and internet access impede the ability to communicate, organize and document.
But it is everyday freedoms and free speech that suffer when online voices are restricted. Social and political opinions and even personal data do not belong to the individual. Building and participating in a digital community, especially for marginalized groups, becomes difficult, if not downright dangerous.
Beyond Identity compiled data from Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net 2021 report to rank the countries with the most and least digital freedom. Freedom House scored each country in three categories with different weighting — barriers to access, content limits, and violations of user rights — then ranked countries based on their total scores. Countries tied for total scores share a rank.
The United States, which ranks 12th among the countries with the most digital freedom, is no exception to these problems. Government surveillance, records of journalists, politicians and activists, and false information inciting riots – especially in the context of a transfer of power – are all cited as demerits in the digital freedom rating from the country.
Read on to learn more about how internet access and content censorship is handled in the world’s most and least free countries.