A project of Freedom on the Net

Elections and internet censorship often go hand in hand. As citizens head to the polls, repressive governments limit access to information, and in the most extreme cases, cut off internet service entirely. Freedom House’s Freedom on the Net project has estimated the risk of restrictions on internet freedom during upcoming elections in selected countries.

Americas

  • Brazil

    October 2018

    General Election

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • The Electoral Act limits publication of content deemed “injurious” to candidates during electoral periods. In 2014, the law was used to justify almost 200 lawsuits and numerous content removal requests.
    • Intimidation and violence against online journalists and bloggers threaten freedom of expression. Those exposing local corruption scandals are especially at risk.
    Read more about internet freedom in Brazil.
  • Colombia

    March 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • Under a 2016 peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the former rebel group will participate in parliamentary elections in March 2018, with a presidential vote to follow in May.
    • While Colombia has a vibrant digital media environment, journalists and human rights defenders face high levels of intimidation. This may affect online reporters and internet users who address sensitive election-related topics. 
    Read more about internet freedom in Colombia.
  • Cuba

    Late 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • Parliamentary elections in the one-party state will follow municipal voting set for October 2018, marking the first such elections since authorities took steps to improve internet connectivity, including the introduction of Wi-Fi hotspots.
    • The regime has a record of blocking independent news sites, removing content deemed “counterrevolutionary,” and arresting or harassing online writers.
    • The new leadership installed in 2018 is unlikely to change many of Cuba’s repressive and monopolistic digital media policies, despite statements in favor of greater access to information. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Raúl Castro’s likely heir as president, has called for stepping up internet monitoring and confronting subversive users.
    Read more about internet freedom in Cuba.
  • Mexico

    July 2018

    General Election

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • Journalists face intimidation and violence for exposing government corruption and collusion with organized crime, and these may intensify prior to elections.
    • Journalists and activists also suffer from cyberattacks, online threats, and digital surveillance.
    • Political forces use trolls and automated “bot” accounts to manipulate online debate. Bots, first noticed during the 2012 presidential election, have spread progovernment propaganda and helped drown out dissent on social media.
    Read more about internet freedom in Mexico.
  • United States

    November 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Low Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Free

    Analysis

    • With a third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives up for election, in addition to state and local offices, the online sphere could again become a partisan battleground.
    • While the internet in the United States remains vibrant and diverse, the 2016 election campaign featured a wave of online disinformation.
    • Concerns over Russian cyberespionage and electoral interference may reemerge in light of cyberattacks that struck U.S. political organizations in 2016.
    Read more about internet freedom in United States.
  • Venezuela

    October 2018

    Presidential Election

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • Bloggers, journalists, and activists face arbitrary detention, harassment, and intimidation by security forces and progovernment groups, as well as cyberattacks and account hijackings.
    • Disruptions to internet service have occurred at crucial times; the main provider shut down broadband service at one point during the 2013 presidential vote.
    • The websites of opposition candidates and independent news outlets were blocked in advance of elections in 2012 and 2013. Arbitrary blocking has continued, recently targeting sites that provided live coverage of antigovernment protests.
    Read more about internet freedom in Venezuela.

Asia-Pacific

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Bangladesh

    Late 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • The government blocked some news sites with ties to the opposition in 2016.
    • Dozens of users have been charged for criticizing companies, individuals, or political figures, though prison sentences are rare.
    • Religious extremists have killed bloggers with secular views. 
    Read more about internet freedom in Bangladesh.
  • Cambodia

    July 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party, in power since 1979, began a crackdown on internet freedom in 2016 to prevent gains by their opponents in local elections in 2017 and national elections set for 2018.
    • Opposition politicians have been charged and jailed for content posted on Facebook.
    • Political activists also face cyberattacks and smear campaigns.
    Read more about internet freedom in Cambodia.
  • Malaysia

    By August 2018

    General Election

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • Elections in Malaysia generally feature an uptick in content manipulation and reprisals for online speech.
    • Digital activism has helped the opposition make gradual gains against the long-ruling National Front coalition.
    • With the prime minister embroiled in a corruption scandal, online critics have already faced censorship and criminal charges in the lead-up to elections.
    Read more about internet freedom in Malaysia.
  • Pakistan

    Summer 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • Political parties campaign vigorously online, but regulators recently blocked one party’s website for carrying allegedly anti-Pakistan views.
    • Authorities frequently impose brief shutdowns of internet service on security grounds.
    • Other threats to internet freedom could increase, including physical attacks and criminal charges in reprisal for digital speech involving religion or government officials.
    Read more about internet freedom in Pakistan.
  • Thailand

    November 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • The military government has postponed elections since seizing power in a 2014 coup, while increasing censorship and imposing long criminal sentences for online speech.
    • Online discussion of a 2016 constitutional referendum was heavily restricted, boding ill for the upcoming parliamentary vote. 
    Read more about internet freedom in Thailand.

Eurasia

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Azerbaijan

    October 2018

    Presidential Election

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • The government has disrupted internet access at politically sensitive times. Internet cafes were closed during the 2013 presidential election.
    • Authorities, using more sophisticated technology, are increasingly blocking independent news outlets, and further censorship is likely ahead of the 2018 election.
    • Journalists and other users are regularly punished for posting politically sensitive content.
    Read more about internet freedom in Azerbaijan.
  • Georgia

    2018

    Presidential Election

    Low Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Free

    Analysis

    • The online media environment is free and unrestricted, though some news outlets have a strong partisan bias.
    • The 2016 parliamentary elections were deemed largely free and fair, with no curbs on internet freedom. 
    Read more about internet freedom in Georgia.
  • Russia

    March 2018

    Presidential Election

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • Authorities do not tolerate genuine political opposition and have restricted the online and offline activism of would-be presidential candidate Aleksey Navalny.
    • Laws set to take effect before the election include a ban on virtual private networks (VPNs) that grant access to blocked sites and a rule requiring social media users to register with their phone numbers.
    • Following a heavy-handed police response to anticorruption protests in 2017, a tougher crackdown online may precede the 2018 election. In past campaigns, cyberattacks targeted election-monitoring websites, and authorities intimidated political activists who posted observations online.
    Read more about internet freedom in Russia.

Europe

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Hungary

    By Spring 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Low Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Free

    Analysis

    • The internet in Hungary is relatively free, and overt censorship is unlikely.
    • There is some partisan manipulation online, particularly on polarizing issues such as migration and the European Union.
    • Users who criticize the authorities sometimes face defamation suits.
    Read more about internet freedom in Hungary.
  • Italy

    By May 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Low Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Free

    Analysis

    • While online journalists and bloggers exercise some caution to avoid libel suits, Italy is home to a vibrant digital landscape, and violations of users’ rights are uncommon.
    • In response to the perceived influence of “fake news” during elections, a recent legislative proposal included fines and even jail time for publishing information online that provokes alarm or misleads public opinion. It remains unclear whether the measure could be passed.
    Read more about internet freedom in Italy.

Middle East and North Africa

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Egypt

    By May 2018

    Presidential Election

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • President al-Sisi has not confirmed whether he will run in the second presidential election since the 2013 coup. He was credited with over 95 percent of the vote in the 2014 election, which was not independently monitored.
    • Authorities have increased censorship of foreign and independent news sites and human rights organizations.
    • Online activities deemed to promote the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned opposition group, remain criminal offenses.
    Read more about internet freedom in Egypt.
  • Lebanon

    May 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Low Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • Tensions between political and religious groups may increase ahead of the elections, which have been postponed since 2014, though a major uptick in internet restrictions is unlikely.
    • Authorities do not regularly engage in website blocking, and the online sphere is polarized but vibrant.
    • Users have been arrested for criticizing the military or government figures.
    Read more about internet freedom in Lebanon.
  • Libya

    Spring 2018

    Parliamentary Elections

    Medium Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • The elections were tentatively scheduled after the two main factions in Libya’s civil conflict signed a cease-fire deal in July.
    • Political and military groups have used control of telecommunications infrastructure to deny internet and mobile service to rivals.
    • Bloggers and activists have been kidnapped and assassinated by armed groups in retaliation for their work.
    Read more about internet freedom in Libya.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Zimbabwe

    By July 2018

    General Election

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Partly Free

    Analysis

    • Discontent with President Mugabe has grown in recent years, prompting online activism and protests.
    • Access to WhatsApp was disabled during antigovernment protests in July 2016. After service was unblocked, the government reportedly hiked the cost of mobile data plans by 500 percent to limit civic organizing.
    Read more about internet freedom in Zimbabwe.

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