Kazakhstan, Sudan, Brazil, and other countries saw the worst deterioration in Internet freedoms over the past year, according to a new Freedom House report that also documented how governments increasingly use social media to monitor citizens and manipulate elections.
The Washington-based organization's Freedom Of The Net report, released on November 5, documented growing attempts by populist leaders and their allies to distort domestic politics. It also examined efforts to block websites or cut off Internet access in many countries as part of efforts by various regimes to stay in power.
"Many governments are finding that on social media, propaganda works better than censorship," Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, said in a statement accompanying the annual report.
The democracy research group said that in 26 of the 30 countries it studied, where national elections were held over the past year, there were incidents of disinformation being used. In 40 of 65 countries the group examined, "advanced social-media surveillance programs" were reported in use.
The countries that saw the biggest deterioration in Internet freedoms included Kazakhstan, where the resignation of longtime ruler Nursultan Nazarbaev, and the election of his anointed successor, was met with widespread protests.
"The government temporarily disrupted Internet connectivity, blocked over a dozen local and international news websites, and restricted access to social-media platforms in a bid to silence activists and curb digital mobilization," Freedom House said. "Also contributing to the country's Internet-freedom decline were the government's efforts to monopolize the mobile market and implement real-time electronic surveillance."
In Russia, the use of sophisticated social-media surveillance has increased, the organization said. In May, government authorities started accepting bids from companies to develop a technology to collect, analyze, and conduct analysis on social-media content relating to President Vladimir Putin and other topics.
The report also noted that Russia and China had been implicated in cyberattacks and information warfare linked to democratic elections in other countries, such as Ukraine.
Founded in 1941, Freedom House is a nongovernmental organization that gets the bulk of its funding from U.S. government grants.