《TAIPEI TIMES》Taiwan leads Asia in Internet freedom
DOWNWARD TREND: The report struck a pessimistic tone and said Internet freedoms are declining globally, while generative artificial intelligence poses a threat to them
By Jonathan Chin / Staff writer
Taiwan has the freest Internet in Asia and it ranks sixth globally, according to Freedom House’s latest ranking published on Wednesday, with China taking the last place for the ninth year in a row.
The Freedom on the Net 2023 report evaluated online freedoms based on obstacles to access, content limitations and breaches of user rights, the organization said in a news release on its Web site.
Seventy countries and Internet environments that encompass 89 percent of the world’s Internet users were included, it said.
An Internet freedom score of more than 70 indicates the country or territory is “free,” a score of 40 to 70 indicates the place is “partly free,” and a score of less than 40 means the country is “unfree,” the human rights watchdog said.
The country with the world’s freest Internet environment is Iceland with a score of 94, followed by Estonia with 93, Canada with 88 and Costa Rica with 85, it said.
Taiwan scored 78 points, behind the UK with 79, but ahead of Germany and Japan with scores of 77, it said.
The report struck a pessimistic tone, stating that Internet freedoms are under attack globally and that scores have generally declined, adding that the rise of generative artificial intelligence （AI） “threatens to supercharge online disinformation campaigns.”
AI-based tools that generate deepfake videos, images and texts were utilized in no fewer than 16 countries by individuals, entities and governments, including former Pakistani prime minster Imran Khan, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former US president Donald Trump, it said.
China, as one of the world’s “most technically sophisticated authoritarian regimes,” is currently engaged in AI research and development that seeks to “weaponize” the technology into “force multipliers for censorship,” the organization said.
Beijing employs chatbots to control the flow of information on social media and deliberately utilizes precensored content in training algorithms to ensure the content they generate does not deviate from official narratives, it said.
“Chatbots produced by China-based companies have refused to engage with user prompts on sensitive subjects like Tiananmen Square and have parroted CCP [Chinese Communist Party] claims about Taiwan,” Freedom House said.
In addition, China regulators ordered tech companies Tencent Holdings Ltd （騰訊） and Ant Group Co （螞蟻集團） to exclude ChatGPT from their services as part of the effort to insulate Chinese users from content that had not been filtered by Beijing, the organization said.
Beijing routinely conducted “harsh crackdowns” on Internet-based speech, and Chinese nationals have been jailed for expressing their views online, it said.
Anti-corruption advocate Xu Zhiyong （許志永） was sentenced to 14 years in prison in April, the report said.
However, Chinese citizens remained undaunted by the ramped-up digital censorship, the organization said, adding that protests over a deadly fire in Urumqi, where toll was reportedly worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, triggered a nationwide policy reversal.
“People employed creative language on social media to evade censors, launching hashtags like ‘A4’ and ‘white paper exercise’ to evoke the blank sheets of paper that demonstrators raised to protest the extremity of CCP censorship,” it said.