A new report claims, surprise, social media isn’t really that free. Instead, it’s full of bad faith actors manipulating elections and government officials surveilling users.
The report, 2019 Freedom on the Net, comes from “independent watchdog organization” Freedom House. And after reading the whole thing (PDF), that still feels like it’s underplaying the growing tire fire that is social media.
While the ongoing efforts to interfere with elections are a huge concern, the breadth of surveillance is just as disturbing. According to the report, 40 of 65 countries it studied (about 62 percent) “have instituted advanced social media surveillance programs.”
In terms of internet freedom, China was ranked as the least free country. Russia and Egypt were also ranked as “not free.” In total, “89 percent of internet users or nearly 3 billion people” fall under some sort of surveillance program, an absolutely staggering number.
And how they’re doing it is just as staggering. For instance, the report notes that in Iran, there’s a “42,000-strong army of volunteers who monitor online speech.” And China’s Communist Party has a similar system of recruits leafing through data and flagging “problematic content.” Meanwhile, Chinese firm Semptian boasts that its Aegis surveillance system helps it monitor over 200 million people in China.
Though the United States is listed as “free” of internet censorship, the report makes clear that the U.S. is hardly innocent. The report mentions Israeli cybersecurity company Cellebrite, who recently agreed to a new deal with ICE valued at between $30-35 million. Cellebrite’s tools enable users to easily hack phones and grab all sorts of data.