As much as we online journalists love reports that rank things, even we must sometimes resist the urge to blog about them, even “in one map.” Because honestly, some countries are just going to either be really good or bad at various things for the foreseeable future. Just as the Central African Republic is not going to be the best country for women within our lifetime, you’ll probably never see a Scandinavian nation on a “failed states” slideshow.
Freedom House’s annual Freedom on the Net (pdf) report is out, and like in most such reports, the actual rankings are largely unsurprising. Iceland, the frozen whistleblower nirvana, ranked first, and second was Estonia, the tiny Baltic country that gave us Skype. China, Cuba, and Iran came in last, obviously.
One thing that is a total grab bag, though, is the list of countries that had the largest declines in Internet freedom. Because although “free” and “not free” countries tend to stay that way, big jumps in their standings can be a sign of really significant and fascinating trends. Here are the explanations for the three of the biggest “losers,” as it were: India, Brazil, and the United States.
Along with stepping up surveillance, last year Indian authorities arrested at least 11 people for doing things like tagging and liking social media posts within closed groups.
At various points, the Indian government also blocked multiple web sites it deemed religiously inflammatory, including access to the “Innocence of Muslims” clip and multiple Twitter handles.
“In 2012, the government ordered ISPs to block hundreds of websites in an effort to minimize religious unrest,” Ashley Greco-Stoner from Freedom House explained to me in an email. “In some cases, the blocks affected entire platforms.”
Brazil has an electoral law that would be unthinkable for a typical American election season: It bans any campaign ads or videos that “offend the dignity or decorum” of a candidate—including satire.
When one Brazilian published a YouTube video calling a local mayoral candidate an “idiot,” in September of last year Brazilian courts ordered the arrests of Google’s top two executives in the country for not removing the clip from YouTube.
But that’s not all that’s happened, unfortunately. Greco-Stoner writes:
Violence against online journalists and bloggers has also been on the rise in Brazil. In February 2012, Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes, editor-in-chief of news website Vassouras na Net, was kidnapped and murdered. In late April 2012, Décio Sá, a longtime political journalist and blogger who wrote for the newspaper O Estado do Maranhão and ran a blog by the name of Blog do Décio, was shot to death while sitting in a bar. In November 2012, Eduardo Carvalho, owner and editor of the Ultima Hora News website, was murdered in connection with his online work. In December 2012, the home of Antonio Fabiano Portilho Coene, owner of the Portal i9 website, was attacked by unidentified gunmen who threw a Molotov cocktail into the courtyard and fired shots on the house.
America’s drop was attributed to, as one might expect, the PRISM/NSA revelations. But interestingly, on Freedom House’s overall rank, the US still places fourth, just under Germany but above Australia and France. It’ll be interesting to see if our ranking slips further in the case of future revelations about online data monitoring. In any case, declines in Internet freedom are never good, particularly not when it puts us in the company of countries that arrest dissenters or restrict access to the web.
Olga Khazan is The Atlantic’s Global Editor.
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