China 'Worst Abuser of Internet Freedom' for 9th Consecutive Year: Report

China 'Worst Abuser of Internet Freedom' for 9th Consecutive Year: Report - Despite repression, Freedom House noted that Chinese people showed their resilience to protest due to Beijing's strict COVID-19 lockdown measures.

China 'Worst Abuser of Internet Freedom' for 9th Consecutive Year: Report

China 'Worst Abuser of Internet Freedom' for 9th Consecutive Year: Report

China "remains the world's worst abuser of internet freedom" for the ninth year in a row as the communist regime is pushing to deploy artificial intelligence (AI) technology to exert increased control over information available to its citizens, according to a new report by Freedom House.

The Washington-based nonprofit organization on Oct. 4 released the report titled "Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence." China scored 9 out of 100, ranking at the bottom of the internet freedom list.

The report provides an overall picture of internet freedom in 70 countries worldwide, representing 89 percent of the world's internet users.

The findings were based on multiple questions focusing on three main categories—including obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights—to determine each country's score on a 100-point scale.

Countries scoring between 70 and 100 points are categorized as "free," those with scores ranging from 40 to 69 are classified as "partially free," and countries scoring between zero and 39 are labeled as "not free."

In contrast to China, Taiwan is ranked first on the list in the Asia-Pacific region with 78 points.

The report noted that internet freedom worldwide deteriorated for 13 consecutive years, highlighting authoritarian governments' suppression.

Furthermore, the report said that China "remained the world's worst environment for internet freedom" as free expression continues to be suppressed in the country. It cited the example of Xu Zhiyong, a prominent civic activist and blogger sentenced to 14 years in prison in April 2023.

Despite repression, Freedom House noted that Chinese people showed their resilience to protest due to Beijing's strict COVID-19 lockdown measures, triggering protests across the country and forcing Chinese authorities to abandon the zero-COVID policy in December 2022.

In addition, the report highlights the ongoing trend of governments harnessing AI to reinforce censorship as the technology allows them to strengthen and refine their online censorship.

According to the report, authoritarian governments like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are aware of the risk from AI applications like ChatGPT, which allows users to bypass its censorship because these systems are trained on global internet information.

The CCP requires AI-related firms to implement content control and promote "core socialist values," the report noted.

In addition, "chatbots produced by China-based companies have refused to engage with user prompts on sensitive subjects like Tiananmen Square."

"The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), a powerful regulatory body, has embarked on a yearslong effort to integrate CCP censorship goals into the country's content recommendation algorithms, synthetic media, and generative AI tools," the report said.

Disinformation Campaign, Censorship

According to a report by the State Department's Global Engagement Center released on Sept. 28, China spends billions of dollars annually to promote disinformation and propaganda worldwide.
China's information manipulation efforts include "leveraging propaganda and censorship, promoting digital authoritarianism." Beijing provides funding to the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a key unit under the CCP tasked with carrying out disinformation campaigns abroad.

The Global Engagement Center noted that "access to global data combined with the latest developments in artificial intelligence technology would enable the PRC [People's Republic of China] to surgically target foreign audiences and thereby perhaps influence economic and security decisions in its favor."

In August, Facebook revealed that it had detected a sprawling online propaganda campaign with a pro-China agenda and removed 7,704 Facebook accounts and 954 pages associated with the campaign. This campaign had a presence across over 50 websites, making it a significant cross-platform covert influence operation.

Facebook said in its report that Beijing's campaign "appears to be the largest known cross-platform covert influence operation in the world."

The campaign has been ongoing for years. Researchers call these activities "Spamouflage," which involves coordinated efforts to post pro-China images, videos, comments, and audio files.

The report noted, "This network originated in China and targeted many regions around the world, including Taiwan, the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Japan, and global Chinese-speaking audiences."

In 2018, a report from Canada-based digital watchdog Citizen Lab found that WeChat, the most popular chat app in China with over 800 million active users in the country, uses visual-based algorithms to filter images that include blacklisted phrases related to issues deemed sensitive by the CCP.

Chinese authorities block popular U.S. websites like Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and YouTube, among others. But, for years, Chinese internet users have circumvented Beijing's restrictions by using a virtual private network (VPN) to access those blocked websites via iPhone apps.

But that little freedom is now at risk as the CCP wants to exert more control over those apps by forcing them to register with authorities.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 29 that Apple is in talks with authorities over a new rule that bans unregistered foreign apps. The move could push the tech giant to remove foreign apps from its app store in China.