The Unfreedom Monitor is a project to analyze, document, and report on the growing use of digital communications technology to advance authoritarian governance around the world.
Authoritarian and dictatorial regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies, using them to advance their own goals and propaganda. At the same time, they restrict access for some to technology and information, helping them to shape and warp reality, conceal abuses, and maintain power. As more and more people use the internet and other technologies these dynamics only become stronger. This means that, despite its goals for good, the internet is sometimes used by authoritarian-minded governments as a tool for deception, propaganda and control.
In 2010, Global Voices’ co-founder Rebecca MacKinnon coined the term “networked authoritarianism” to define how China manipulates the internet to maintain power. The approach allows for limited debate around some issues but controls the platforms and frames the narratives up for discussion. Technology facilitates surveillance and social controls, and information, discussion, and activism with the potential to threaten power is forbidden.
Global Voices has been tracking and documenting this phenomenon in many countries through our Advox project, since 2007. We have noticed a few trends. Over time, threats to online expression transform from threats to individuals to threats to systems, affecting entire populations. Internet controls and mass surveillance become an accepted part of governing. States have become sophisticated in their ability to detect, repress and target organizing, expression and activism. Many states are combining targeted denial of information services with powerful surveillance and the ability to “flood the zone” with false and misleading information, using automated technologies and networks of supporters. These practices and more come together to strengthen existing authoritarian powers and threaten the stability of long-standing and fledgling democracies.
Today, what has become known as digital authoritarianism is evident in all kinds of governments. The internet is dominated by advertising technology that tracks and segments users for commercial gain. Governments, states, and political parties, often in collaboration with corporations, harness this surveillance power, and a future with more advanced machine learning, facial recognition, and artificial intelligence for “predictive” analysis suggests that state capabilities for control will likely increase. Combine this with the ubiquitous CCTV capture, the face that we carry our communications devices everywhere, and the normalization of the idea that your devices should listen to you, and you end up with pervasive surveillance.
These are the reasons we created The Unfreedom Monitor. We want to understand what motivates, shapes, and influences digital authoritarianism around the world, no matter the style of government or political system. Starting with 11 pilot countries, we are seeking to develop a method for naming digital authoritarianism, so we can help people of good conscience tame it.
The Unfreedom Monitor
Authoritarian regimes have long had a complicated relationship with media and communications technologies. The Unfreedom Monitor is a Global Voices Advox research initiative examining the growing phenomenon of networked or digital authoritarianism.
Stories about Unfreedom Monitor
In February 2022, the Federal Police delivered a partial report to the Supreme Court detailing the structure of “digital militias” coordinating attacks against rival politicians, democratic institutions, and the dissemination of "false news."
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Morocco is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Egypt is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Advox, the digital rights initiative of Global Voices, is seeking country-level researchers to contribute to a project about networked societies and authoritarianism.
Brazil's Electoral Court brings platforms closer ahead of presidential elections, but questions over companies’ commitments remain
All the agreements are non-binding, however, which means there will be no enforcement in the case a platform does not meet the actions listed in the MoU.
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Tanzania is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Journalists are caught up in the crosshairs of a strategic battle to churn out narratives acceptable to either the state or opposition parties.
India's rapid digitization has been accompanied by an array of practices that curtail citizens' liberties. Join us on September 22 for a discussion of how citizens are pushing back.
As digital authoritarianism spreads globally, is the law, one of the pillars of democracy, being used to undermine people's rights?
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Zimbabwe is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Advox research into misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Russia is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in India is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Research from the Unfreedom Monitor uncovers a pattern in the way that social media and tech platforms engage with states that practise digital authoritarianism.
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Turkey is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
Under BTK's eye: investigation reveals Turkey's information and communication authority has been collecting private user data for over a year
The private user data collected by the Turkey's Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) has been described by main opposition party as the biggest tapping scandal in the history of the Republic.
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Sudan is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
One regulation obliges telcos to block and filter a list of URLs, and to “daily monitor” the filtering equipment to verify that it is being updated.
Advox research into digital authoritarianism in Brazil is now in a report. Read an excerpt and download the full pdf.
The Unfreedom Monitor is an Advox initiative to deepen our understanding of the relationship between technology and authoritarian power. In the first phase of this project, researchers working in 11 countries and four key themes conducted analysis of incidents, narratives, and media items, to explain acts of digital authoritarianism and...