By Alan Murray and Geoffrey Smith
November 14, 2017

Good morning.

It’s been nearly seven years since the Arab Spring threw a spotlight on social media’s ability to fuel freedom movements around the world. Unfortunately, what we have learned in the years since is that those same social media tools can be used to abuse and restrict freedom.

This morning, Freedom House releases its annual report on Freedom on the Net. CEO Daily got an early look, and the global picture it paints is dim. Nearly half of the 65 countries reviewed in the study saw declines in Internet freedom, with the biggest declines registered in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey. Only 13 countries saw improvements—most of them minor.

While Americans are focused on reports of Russian efforts to interfere in the U.S. election, similar sophisticated campaigns to manipulate social media occurred elsewhere. According to Freedom House, manipulation and disinformation techniques played an important role in elections in at least 17 other countries over the past year. In some cases, those disinformation efforts were aimed at disrupting those in power; in others—the Philippines, Turkey, Venezuela—they were used to protect ruling regimes.

Beyond manipulation, the report finds an increasing number of governments have shut down mobile service at times for political or security reasons. And some also are blocking live video services—like Facebook and Snapchat live—to prevent broadcast of political protests. Cyber attacks on political opponents and rights groups also are on the rise. And several companies followed the lead of China—which gets the lowest score in the Freedom House survey—by restricting Virtual Private Networks, which are used by many companies to enable employees to access corporate files remotely.

A couple of pertinent stats. Of the 3.4 billion people who have access to the Internet around the world:

  • 63% now live in countries where people were arrested or imprisoned for posting content on political, social or religious issues;
  • 52% now live in countries where social media or messaging apps were blocked over the last year.

You can find the full report here. Its lesson: like most new technologies, dating back to the invention of fire, social media is neither good nor evil—but it provides considerable power to both.

More news below.

Alan Murray


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