Politics

The Least Free Countries On Earth – You Probably Will Not Guess #1

Access to the internet has largely led to the spread of information, cultures and ideas. The proliferation of the internet, as well as the hyper-connectivity of today’s society, often leads to the feeling that the world is getting smaller, that we’re largely interconnected, and that the online world is a free one.

While access to the internet, and the ability to navigate it freely, may sometimes seem like a certainty, less than one-fourth of the world’s internet users actually reside in countries where the internet is technically designated “free.”  In fact, according to Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom on the Net report, online manipulation and disinformation tactics are on the rise, leading to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom across the globe.

Freedom House ranked 65 countries worldwide on their level of censorship. Countries were given an overall total score based on 21 questions and nearly 100 subquestions, divided into three categories: obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights.

According to the Freedom House methodology, the top 10 most censored countries are:

  1. Bahrain

  2. Pakistan

  3. Saudi Arabia

  4. Vietnam

  5. Uzbekistan

  6. Cuba

  7. Iran

  8. Ethioia

  9. Syria

  10. China

The top 10 least censored countries are:

  1. Estonia

  2. Iceland

  3. Canada

  4. Germany

  5. Australia

  6. United States

  7. Japan

  8. Georgia

  9. United Kingdom

  10. Italy

In addition to an overall censorship score, Freedom House documented the prevalence of different levels of censorship used by each country to control their citizens’ access to content. Among the nine types of internet controls used were four types we outlined visually, including:

  • Countries that block political, social or religious content: These countries block or filter domains, URLS or keywords with the goal of limiting access to specific content.

  • Countries that block social media/communication apps: These countries either block entire social media/communication applications or have temporarily or permanently blocked the key functions of these applications with the goal of preventing communication and information sharing.

  • Countries that arrest, detain or imprison bloggers or ICT users for posting political/social content: These countries have arrested, detained or imprisoned individuals as an act of retaliation for digital expression. (Brief detentions for interrogation are not reflected.)

  • Countries that use pro-government commentators: There are strong indications that these countries employ paid individuals to manipulate the discussion online.

Other key takeaways from the study include:

  • Almost half of the countries assessed—32 out of 65—have been on an overall decline in internet freedom since June 2016.

  • China continued to be the worst abuser of internet freedom for a third consecutive year.

  • The United States experienced a decline in internet freedom, falling two places from the fourth least censored country in 2016 to the sixth least censored country in 2017. The decline was largely due to the spread of disinformation and hyperpartisan content during the 2016 election, as well as the uptick in harassment and threats against journalists in the country.

  • Thirteen countries improved in their internet freedom score, including Libya, Bangladesh, and Uzbekistan. However, broad shifts in policy across these countries were not seen.


Top10VPN put together an infographic about online censorship around the world that visualizes some of the key findings of the study, including the most censored/least censored countries studied, and countries that use the key internet controls mentioned above. See the entire visual below.

Online censorship around the world:

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Online censorship around the world

Countries that block political, social or religious content:

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countries block political content

Countries that block social media/communication apps:

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countries block social media

Countries that arrest, detain or imprison bloggers or ICT users for posting political/social content:

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countries arrest free speech

Countries that use pro-government commentators:

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countries use progovernment commentators