Internet freedom around the world has declined for the fourth consecutive year, according to a report by Freedom House, with 36 of 65 countries covered in its analysis adopting policies opposing online freedom.
Nineteen countries passes legistlation that increased surveillance and restricted online anonymity, the group said.
The biggest declines were seen in Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, Freedom House said, noting that the Russian government took multiple steps to increase control of the online sphere.
However, Iran, Syria and China were the worst places in the world for Internet freedom, where governments actively monitor, censor and act against citizens on online platforms, including social media.
Notably, Syria was found to be the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, and was found to be a malware hotspot, with thousands of computers compromised by pro-government hackers.
Very few countries registered any gains in Internet freedom, the group noted, adding that improvements typically reflected less vigorous application of existing internet controls, compared to the previous year, rather than new positive steps taken by the government.
The biggest improvements were seen in India and Brazil.
Top 10 most free nations
Top 10 least free nations
Online freedom in SA
South Africa scored 26 for its level of internet freedom – where a score of 0-30 denotes “Free” – ranking 12th (tied with Georgia) out of the 65 countries studied, and first in the region.
This stands in contrast to Freedom House’s assessment of South Africa’s press freedom, which is currently regarded as onlt “partly free”.
In the past year, South Africa saw no social media/ICT apps blocked, no political or social content blocked, and no bloggers or Internet users arrested as a move to censor.
However, Freedom House noted that several blooper clips from the launch of news channel ANN7 were removed from YouTube, after what some speculate were politically-motivated requests.
The group also noted that a number of politcally-aligned companies owned major news outlets, and the launch of media products by pro-ANC businesses, indicated growing influence of government on the media, including online.
The Protection of State Information Bill (“Secrecy Bill”) which is on its way to become law, the passage of the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Act (or “Spy Bill”) in July 2013; and the fact that government requests for user data from Google and Facebook increased over the past year, were also highlighted.
“The digital media environment in South Africa can be described as generally free and open. A culture of free expression exists online, with diverse content available,” Freedom House said.
“Moreover, potentially significant moves by the government, such as the passage of a new broadband policy and funding of at least one major public access broadband initiative, suggests a positive trend toward access to the internet generally, especially for the poor.”