UNESCO Releases Report on Online Freedom of Expression

By Dev Joshi, Travis Lane, and John Walker, Research Analysts for Connected Nation

UNESCO-commissioned research released last week shows that there is an increase globally of online censorship and content filtering. The publication, titled “Freedom of Connection – Freedom of Expression: The Changing Legal and Regulatory Ecology Shaping the Internet,” focuses on how to balance the rights to freedom of expression with other digital rights, particularly the right to access information, taking into account a widening global digital divide.

Of the more than 2 billion people worldwide using the Internet in 2010, nearly 70 million were residents in US states and territories served by Connected Nation. We work with public and private partners to help communities, institutions, and individuals bridge the digital divide, enabling access to better information and education, more efficient public service and civic participation, supporting freedom of expression and an improved quality of life.

UNESCO recognizes that the global diffusion of the Internet has made it an increasingly central medium of expression, allowing users to inform and educate themselves, express their views, and participate in civil society. The report recommends continued efforts to reduce the digital divide as a means to support freedom of expression and access to information. Connected Nation’s research confirms that increased broadband access provides access to a variety of resources that are essential to the diffusion of knowledge and promotion of civic participation; including increased access to government and community services, media platforms to share information, and ability to create sustained dialogue.

For example, home broadband service allows residents to be more active and participate more regularly in their local government affairs. Residential Technology Assessments conducted last year in states and territories served by Connected Nation revealed that home broadband subscribers are significantly more likely than residents without home broadband access to access information about government services or policies (57% of home broadband subscribers compared to 24%). In addition, broadband subscribers were significantly more likely to interact online with state and local government officials than residents without home broadband service (49% of home broadband subscribers compared to 20%). Clearly, home broadband adoption is giving more individuals the opportunity to voice their opinions and participate in the political process.

Another vital aspect of civic participation is the ability to communicate and access or distribute information. Residential research conducted by Connected Nation in 2010 indicates that more than nine out of ten residents with home broadband service use the Internet to read newspapers, send or receive photos, or watch videos, compared to only four out of ten residents without home broadband service. Furthermore, seven out of ten residents with home broadband service communicate with others by posting content to a blog, social networking site, website, or Twitter. In comparison, only 27% of residents without home broadband service report utilizing these resources to share information and communicate. Home broadband subscribers also report having better access to community resources with nearly two-thirds of home broadband subscribers report that they use the Internet to search for information about events in their community (65% of home broadband subscribers, compared to 23% of non-subscribers).

Broadband provides a tool for citizens to engage with their government and, in broader context, communities across the globe. Online freedom is paramount as we, in the twenty-first century, rely so much on the Internet for social interaction and media.

How has high-speed broadband Internet enabled you to participate in civil society or express your views freely? How do you think we should utilize the potential of the Internet without compromising civil liberties (such as the right to freedom of expression and privacy)? Tell us at http://www.connectednation.org/_forms/_TellyourStory.php.

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