Free Speech Diminished for 6th Straight Year

Free speech continues to take a beating both in the U.S. and, especially, abroad, and prospects for the future appear worrisome as control of the vital medium of the internet passes from U.S. hands to the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union, an international organization comprised of member nations who believe in censorship.

In America, political correctness run amok poses a particular challenge for users of social media platforms managed by those with a leftist political bent who seek to manage news, and on college campuses, where Progressive orthodoxy prevails. The latest incident involves the University of Virginia (UVA) where some professors are seeking to delete statements by Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the concept of free speech.

The Cavalier Daily reports that “Several groups on [campus] collaborated to write a letter to University President Teresa Sullivan against the inclusion of a Thomas Jefferson quote in her post-election email Nov. 9. In the email, Sullivan encouraged students to unite in the wake of contentious results, arguing that University students have the responsibility of creating the future they want for themselves. ‘Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’ Sullivan said in the email. ‘I encourage today’s U.V.A. students to embrace that responsibility.”

Across the face of the globe, freedom on the web is rapidly losing ground. Freedom House has released its latest report, showing a decline in free speech on the internet for the sixth straight year. 65 nations were assessed, and 34 were found to have reduced free speech since June of 2015.

According to the study, “Two-thirds of all internet users – 67 percent – live in countries where criticism of the government, military, or ruling family are subject to censorship. Social media users face unprecedented penalties, as authorities in 38 countries made arrests based on social media posts over the past year. Globally, 27 percent of all internet users live in countries where people have been arrested for publishing, sharing, or merely ‘liking’ content on Facebook. Governments are increasingly going after messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, which can spread information quickly and securely. 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 anti-government protests.

“In addition to restricting access to social media and communication apps, state authorities more frequently imprison users for their posts and the content of their messages, creating a chilling effect among others who write on controversial topics. Users in some countries were put behind bars for simply “liking” offending material on Facebook, or for not denouncing critical messages sent to them by others. Offenses that led to arrests ranged from mocking the king’s pet dog in Thailand to “spreading atheism” in Saudi Arabia. The number of countries where such arrests occur has increased by over 50 percent since 2013.

The study found that only 24 percent of the world’s nations allowed free speech, 29 percentallowed partial free speech, 35 percent were rated as not free, and the remaining 12 percent were not assessed. Turkey and Brazil were downgraded in their internet freedom status.

Freedom House noted that “It is no coincidence that the tools at the center of the current crackdown have been widely used to hold governments accountable and facilitate uncensored conversations. Authorities in several countries have even resorted to shutting down all internet access at politically contentious times, solely to prevent users from disseminating information through social media and communication apps, with untold social, commercial, and humanitarian consequences.”

China was found to be the worst offender.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government

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