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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

Internet freedom is in decline around the world, with governments using social media to monitor their citizens and spread disinformation at home and overseas, according to an annual Freedom House report.

The big picture: "What was once a liberating technology has become a conduit for surveillance and electoral manipulation," the authors write of social media. "Sophisticated mass surveillance that was once feasible only for the world's leading intelligence agencies is now affordable for a much broader range of states."

Countries in decline:

  • Sudan saw social media blocked during mass protests against now-former President Omar al-Bashir, and speech was severely restricted during a lengthy state of emergency.
  • Kazakhstan's government "temporarily disrupted internet connectivity, blocked ... news websites, and restricted access to social media platforms" to control the conversation around its presidential transition.
  • Brazil has seen a rise of cyberattacks and "social media manipulation," mostly from supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro — who has "hired communications consultants credited with 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.

Superlatives: China is "the world's worst abuser of internet freedom" while Iceland is "the world's best protector."

Go deeper: China named world's worst abuser of internet freedom again

Go deeper

Corporate America finds downside to politics

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Corporate America is finding it can get messy when it steps into politics.

Why it matters: Urged on by shareholders, employees and its own company creeds, Big Business is taking increasing stands on controversial political issues during recent months — and now it's beginning to see the fallout.

Church groups say they can help the government more at border

A mural inside of Casa del Refugiado in El Paso, Texas. Photo: Stef Kight/Axios

Despite the separation between church and state, the federal government depends upon religious shelters to help it cope with migration at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Why it matters: The network supports the U.S. in times of crisis, but now some shelter leaders are complaining about expelling families to Mexico when they have capacity — and feel a higher calling — to accommodate them.

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