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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.

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The decades-long building boom that remade Washington D.C. is screeching to a halt, undone by broader construction trends and the legacy of the post-pandemic workplace.

Why it matters: Dizzying construction has reshaped the city, reinvigorated downtown and created bustling new communities. 

Facebook fights for its image

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Facebook is ditching apologies and taking a more combative stance against its critics as it faces a new barrage of negative coverage and leaked internal reports.

Driving the news: As part of the new posture, Facebook started testing placing positive messages about itself in users' News Feeds last month, according to a New York Times story Tuesday.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Charter schools boomed during the pandemic

Expand chart
Data: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools; Map: Sara Wise/Axios

Charter schools picked off hundreds of thousands of public school students across the U.S. during the pandemic, according to a new analysis from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Why it matters: The pandemic has weakened America's public education system, as Zoom classes, teacher fatigue and student disengagement take their toll. And that hobbled system is shedding students to charter schools, private schools and homeschooling.