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Global Internet Freedom Declines for Sixth Consecutive Year in 2016, Says Freedom House

"Internet freedom has declined for the sixth consecutive year, with more governments than ever before targeting social media and communication apps as a means of halting the rapid dissemination of information, particularly during antigovernment protests," according to the Freedom on the Net 2016 report released by Freedom House.

"For the second consecutive year, China was the world's worst abuser of internet freedom, followed by Syria and Iran. An amendment to Chinese criminal law added seven-year prison terms for spreading rumors on social media (a charge often used to imprison political activists). Some users in China belonging to minority religious groups were imprisoned for watching religious videos on mobile phones."

Other key findgins from the report:

Social media users face unprecedented penalties: Authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts over the past year, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2013. Prison sentences imposed in some countries exceeded ten years.

Governments censor more diverse content: Digital petitions or calls for protests were censored in more countries than before, as were the views of political opposition groups and the LGBTI community. Forty-seven percent of internet users live in countries where alleged insults to religion can lead to censorship or arrest.

Censorship of images intensified: Image-sharing platforms were blocked, and world leaders took strong action when their photos were mocked on social media. In Egypt, a photo depicting President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi with Mickey Mouse ears resulted in a three-year prison term for the 22-year-old student who posted it on Facebook.

Security measures threaten free speech and privacy: Governments in democratic and nondemocratic countries passed laws that limit privacy and authorize broad surveillance, launching debates about the extent to which governments should have backdoor access to encrypted communications. Fourteen countries approved new national security laws or policies that could significantly limit internet freedom.

Online activism reaches new heights: In two-thirds of the countries under study, internet-based activism led to a tangible outcome. Internet freedom activists in Nigeria helped thwart a bill that would have limited social media activity, while a WhatsApp group in Syria helped save innocent lives by warning civilians of impending air raids.

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