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Expand chart
Reproduced from a Freedom House map; Note: Score based on obstacles to access, limits on content and violation of user rights; Map: Axios Visuals

Rising levels of political disinformation and government surveillance are making the internet less free in the U.S., according to a new report by Freedom House, a democracy and human rights research group.

The big picture: Internet freedom is in decline around the world, according to the report, as governments increasingly use social media to monitor their citizens and spread disinformation at home and overseas.

  • The U.S. has long been a bastion of internet freedom and still ranks sixth out of 65 countries assessed, but its status has fallen each of the past three years.

Details: The authors cite monitoring of social media platforms by immigration and law enforcement agencies as a particular concern in the U.S., along with political disinformation that has been "at times exacerbated by top government officials and political leaders."

  • Most free: Iceland, Estonia, Canada, Germany, Australia.
  • Least free: China is "the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom," followed by Iran, Syria, Cuba and Vietnam.
  • Of China, the authors write: "Censorship and surveillance were pushed to unprecedented extremes as the government enhanced its information controls, including in the lead-up to the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and in response to persistent antigovernment protests in Hong Kong."

Countries in decline:

  • Sudan saw social media blocked during mass protests against now-former President Omar al-Bashir, and harsh repression during a lengthy state of emergency.
  • Kazakhstan's government "temporarily disrupted internet connectivity, blocked ... news websites, and restricted access to social media platforms" during its stage-managed presidential transition.
  • Brazil saw a rise of cyberattacks and "social media manipulation," mostly from supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro — who then hired consultants accused of "spearheading the sophisticated disinformation campaign."
  • Bangladesh's government, in response to protests over road safety and electoral irregularities, "resorted to blocking independent news websites, restricting mobile networks, and arresting journalists and ordinary users alike."
  • Zimbabwe became a more difficult place to access the internet, both because of economic chaos and crackdowns from the government.

The other side: Ethiopia was one of the few countries in which internet restrictions were loosened this year, under reform-minded Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Improvements were also seen in Malaysia and Armenia.

The bottom line: "What was once a liberating technology has become a conduit for surveillance and electoral manipulation," the authors write about social media.

Go deeper

Prosecutor: Fatal police shooting of Andrew Brown Jr. was "justified"

Khalil Ferebee (C), the son of Andrew Brown Jr., and attorneys Bakari Sellers (L) and Harry Daniel (R) at a May 11 news conference in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that the death of Andrew Brown Jr., a Black man fatally shot by sheriff's deputies last month, was "tragic" but "justified," due to the immediate threat officers believed Brown posed.

Why it matters: The FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into Brown's death. Police in Elizabeth City shot him five times, including in the back of his head, according to an independent autopsy report released by family attorneys last month.

McCarthy comes out against bipartisan deal on Jan. 6 commission

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) will oppose a bipartisan deal announced last week that would form a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, his office announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: McCarthy's opposition to the deal, which was negotiated by the top Republican and Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee, underscores the internal divisions that continue to plague the GOP in the wake of Jan. 6.

2 hours ago - World

Beijing's antitrust push poses a problem for Western regulators

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Chinese government's anti-monopoly machinery presents a major challenge to U.S. and European regulators, a new book argues.

Why it matters: China's huge markets are attracting investment from multinational corporations and shaping the behavior of its own globe-trotting companies — giving international heft to the country's idiosyncratic antitrust enforcement and putting it on a collision course with Western-style regulation.