Online freedom and access around the world

The World Wide Web Foundation has published its 2013 Web Index.

The Web Index measures the impact of the web around the world, ranking 81 countries according to their use of the web to create social and political change.

The World Wide Web Foundation was founded by Tim Berners Lee to tackle the obstacles to creating a valuable web, that is open to all.

Countries were measured on:

  • Universal access  (have countries invested in affordable infrastructure and/or digital literacy)
  • Freedom and openness (the extent to which citizens enjoy online privacy and rights to information)
  • Relevant content (including official data/information to increase accountability and publishing in appropriate languages)
  • Empowerment  (how is the web helping to foster positive change in politics, society, the economy, the environment)

For the second year running, Sweden achieves top spot.  The report states that Sweden is reaping the rewards of its ground-breaking Information Society for All law (2000) which stated that broadband should be considered a utility and every citizen should have access.  Additionally, Sweden obliged its state-owned companies to build broadband infrastructure.  In 2009 the government set up a plan to ensure that all households and businesses in the country could access public services via the internet.

Norway, in second place, is also reaping the rewards of political initiatives over the last ten years. 

The report does express concern at ‘creeping surveillance’.  Despite achieving an overall ranking of third, the UK has slipped to 24th spot for ‘freedom and openness’.  The US, which took overall fourth spot, is 27th for freedom and openness.  Developing countries are more likely to censor content; developed countries are more likely to spy on online communications.

The Web Index top ten in full

  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • New Zealand
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Iceland
  • France
  • South Korea

Social networking

The report examines the role of social networking in society. It concludes that in 80% of the countries studied awareness-raising, via social media, has played a notable role in political mobilisation.  Social media continues to be important in Arab Spring countries, while in Europe, tools are being used to encourage social and protest movements.  The same has been true in Brazil and Turkey, where social media helped bring protestors to the streets.

In the Philippines something called the anti-Epal movement combined entertainment value with social pressure.  Thousands of people used social media to ‘shame the shameless’ by sharing photographs of public buildings being named after themselves by politicians.  The result is an (as yet un-passed) bill to make it illegal to display political party or politician’s names on public buildings.

(Since the report went to press, people in the Philippines have of course used social media in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.)

Recommendations for the future

The Index makes four recommendations:

  • Reverse the rising tide of online censorship and surveillance
  • Make broadband accessible and affordable to all
  • Guarantee that all women, men, boys and girls can access essential information
  • Educate everyone on digital rights and skills.

The full report is available here.

Image via Luciano Castillo via Flickr.