Freedom House: Trolls & Fake News Main Internet Challenges in Georgia

The United States-based non-governmental organization Freedom House has released its 2019 Freedom on the Net report, in which Georgia's ranking remains among the free countries with 75 points. According to the reports, the main challenges in Georgia in terms of internet are fake news and trolls.

“Authorities generally respected digital rights in Georgia during the coverage period, which saw the enactment of a new constitution that guarantees the right to internet access. However, threats to internet freedom persisted on a number of fronts. While access increased, the growth was sluggish. Trolling, particularly by government-affiliated bots and users, intensified, most notably around the June 2018 protests and the 2018 presidential election. Harassment continues to mar the internet landscape, with several high-profile cases of online intimidation during the coverage period,” the report reads.

Georgia’s scores in the three categories of the report are as follows:

1. Obstacles to access – 19 points out of 25

2. Limits of content – 30 points out of 35

3. Violation of user rights – 26 points out of 40

When describing the period from June 2018 – May 31, 2019, Freedom House says that around the 2018 presidential election campaign and at other points during the reporting period, anonymous actors on social media distorted the information landscape by spreading misinformation.

The report also mentions that a secretly recorded sex tape of lawmaker Eka Beselia was leaked on social media in January 2019, apparently in retaliation for her political stances, while in February, sex-education activist Khatia Akhalaia was subjected to threats of rape and death online.

However, it added that Georgia’s new constitution, which declares internet access as a fundamental right, came into force in December 2018.

Regarding access, Freedom House says that the number of internet and mobile phone subscriptions in Georgia continues to grow, but high prices for service, inadequate infrastructure, and slow internet speeds remain obstacles to access.

“Georgians face some infrastructural obstacles to accessing the internet. However, internet access continued to grow during the coverage period, with approximately 69.6% of households enjoying access in 2018, according to data from the International Telecommunication Union,” the organization noted, adding that many restaurants, bars, cinemas, and other public places provide Wi-Fi access, allowing customers to use the internet on their personal devices.

Freedom on the Net also reads that there are few legal or regulatory obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers in Georgia, but market concentration limits competition.

“The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) market is dominated by a handful of large companies...All three mobile service providers, Geocell, MagtiCom, and Veon Georgia (previously Mobitel), which are privately owned, offer mobile internet service. MagtiCom and Silknet together control 70% of the mobile internet market,” the report reads.

It was noted that Georgian users do not face restrictions in accessing websites, uploading or downloading content, hosting their own websites, and contacting other users via forums, social media platforms, and communications apps.

Freedom on the Net is a comprehensive study of internet freedom in 65 countries around the globe, covering 87% of the world’s internet users. It tracks improvements and declines in internet freedom conditions each year. More than 70 analysts contributed to this year’s edition, using a 21-question study that addresses internet access, freedom of expression, and privacy issues. In addition to ranking countries by their internet freedom score, the project offers a unique opportunity to identify global trends related to the impact of information and communication technologies on democracy.

The report reads that of the 65 countries assessed, 33 have seen an overall decline since June 2018, compared with 16 that registered net improvements. The biggest score declines took place in Sudan and Kazakhstan, followed by Brazil, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe.

By Tea Mariamidze

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07 November 2019 18:16