Map: Internet Censorship Around the World
In January 2011, Egyptian activists, inspired by a successful uprising in Tunisia, began organizing a demonstration using Facebook. In a matter of days, thousands of protesters – who learned about the event through the social media platform – gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the longstanding Mubarak regime.
Then, in an attempt to quash civil unrest, the Egyptian government soon took the bold step of cutting off the country’s internet access. As the size of protests swelled from thousands to millions of people, the Mubarak regime quickly realized their mistake: never cut off a millennial’s internet access.
Mubarak was ultimately forced to resign after just 18 days of massive protests, but in that time Egypt’s Arab Spring demonstrated two major things: (1) the incredible organizing power of the internet, and (2) the how quickly a government could slam the door on the free flow of information.
The Egyptian government was able to quickly and effectively shut down the chokepoints that connect its citizens to the outside world. Etisalat, for example, is a centrally located routing system that could see up to 58% of Egypt’s IP addresses.
In other words, Mubarak was essentially able to blockade every website in the world by making a few simple phone calls.
A New Era Of Internet Censorship
Egypt’s dramatic internet shutdown became a new template for other precarious regimes, but also sparked a broader global conversation around online censorship.
Today’s infographic comes to us from WhoIsHostingThis and it provides a detailed look at varying levels of internet censorship around the world today.
Internet users in North America and Europe enjoy relatively unfettered access to online content, while most countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East have some level of censorship. Torrenting is restricted in almost every country in the world, with a notable exception being Switzerland, where a laissez-faire approach is applied to downloading content for personal consumption.
It’s also worth noting that this map does not address government surveillance, which is ubiquitous even in countries with high levels of internet freedom.
The Anti-Information Age
If you want to liberate a country, give them the internet
–Wael Ghonim, Egyptian internet activist
Much of the world’s population accesses an internet that is at least partially censored. Countries have different motivations for restricting access and filtering content. Below are a few high-profile examples.
When most people think of internet censorship, China springs to mind. This makes sense as the country has a small army (upwards of 50,000 people) monitoring internet activity at all times. Also, much like Egypt, the government forces all online traffic through a mere three central routing systems. This makes it easy for censors to sift through all data entering and leaving the country.
China’s censorship apparatus is so advanced, it can take a very granular approach to repression and enforcement.
The country’s swelling blacklist of 100,000 websites, coupled with harsh penalties for any whiff of anti-government sentiment, have created an extremely restrictive environment for Turkish internet users.
In 2016, the government of Ethiopia blocked access to social networking sites to prevent cheating during the university entrance exam period.
Unauthorized surfing of the internet is a dangerous activity in the Hermit Kingdom. The primary smartphones, tablets, operating systems, and browsers used in the country were all developed by the government, and content on the 5,000 or so accessible websites is tightly controlled.
Slipping Through the Firewall
Even when censoring measures are pervasive and effective, people continually find ways to slip between the cracks. For years, people have used proxy servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) to access content beyond their country’s censorship wall, but censors are getting better at discovering proxy servers and simply blocking them as they would any other site.
As a result, newer techniques are gaining popularity:
Steganography is the science of hiding information. Basically, an innocuous file like an image can be stealthily encoded with information to evade detection by censors. Even changing a single pixel on a series of images can be used to relay a message, provided the recipient knows what to look for.
This circumvention tool uses partnerships with ISPs and other network operators to provide Internet freedom to users. Rather than trying to hide individual proxies, whole networks outside the censored country can become a conduit for the free flow of information.
Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally
How many democracies does the world have? This visual shows the change since 1945 and the top nations becoming more (and less) democratic.
Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally
The end of World War II in 1945 was a turning point for democracies around the world.
Before this critical turning point in geopolitics, democracies made up only a small number of the world’s countries, both legally and in practice. However, over the course of the next six decades, the number of democratic nations would more than quadruple.
Interestingly, studies have found that this trend has recently reversed as of the 2010s, with democracies and non-democracies now in a deadlock.
In this visualization, Staffan Landin uses data from V-DEM’s Electoral Democratic Index (EDI) to highlight the changing face of global politics over the past two decades and the nations that contributed the most to this change.
V-DEM’s EDI attempts to measure democratic development in a comprehensive way, through the contributions of 3,700 experts from countries around the world.
Instead of relying on each nation’s legally recognized system of government, the EDI analyzes the level of electoral democracy in countries on a range of indicators, including:
- Free and fair elections
- Rule of law
- Alternative sources of information and association
- Freedom of expression
Countries are assigned a score on a scale from 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating a higher level of democracy. Each is also categorized into four types of functional government, from liberal and electoral democracies to electoral and closed autocracies.
Which Countries Have Declined the Most?
The EDI found that numerous countries around the world saw declines in democracy over the past two decades. Here are the 10 countries that saw the steepest decline in EDI score since 2010:
|Country||Democracy Index (2010)||Democracy Index (2022)||Points Lost|
Central and Eastern Europe was home to three of the countries seeing the largest declines in democracy. Hungary, Poland, and Serbia lead the table, with Hungary and Serbia in particular dropping below scores of 0.5.
Some of the world’s largest countries by population also decreased significantly, including India and Brazil. Across most of the top 10, the “freedom of expression” indicator was hit particularly hard, with notable increases in media censorship to be found in Afghanistan and Brazil.
Countries Becoming More Democratic
Here are the 10 countries that saw the largest increase in EDI score since 2010:
|Country||Democracy Index (2010)||Democracy Index (2022)||Points Gained|
|🇬🇲 The Gambia||0.25||0.50||+25|
|🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||0.42||0.57||+15|
Armenia, Fiji, and Seychelles saw significant improvement in the autonomy of their electoral management bodies in the last 10 years. Partially as a result, both Armenia and Seychelles have seen their scores rise above 0.5.
The Gambia also saw great improvement across many election indicators, including the quality of voter registries, vote buying, and election violence. It was one of five African countries to make the top 10 most improved democracies.
With the total number of democracies and non-democracies almost tied over the past four years, it is hard to predict the political atmosphere in the future.
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