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

    May 2018

    Presidential Election

    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.
  • 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.

Asia-Pacific

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Bangladesh

    January 2019

    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.
  • Pakistan

    July 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

    February 2019

    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
  • Georgia

    October 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.

Europe

Monitor Election Gauge Legend
  • Turkey

    June 2018

    General Elections

    High Risk

    Internet Freedom Status: Not Free

    Analysis

    • Tensions between the ruling AK Party and the opposition will likely escalate in advance of the presidential and parliamentary elections, the first to take place under new electoral rules. 
    • Voting will be held amid the ongoing state of emergency, in place since the 2016 coup attempt. Thousands of citizens have faced spurious charges for comments made on social media. 
    • Authorities have repeatedly blocked social media and communications apps, and shut down the internet, around politically sensitive events.
    Read more about internet freedom in Turkey.

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.

Photo by Scott Peterson/Getty Images