JOHANNESBURGFreedom of expression on the Internet is on the decline around the world and it is becoming more difficult for people to access and use applications to express themselves as online censorship grows and governments weigh more influence on what people say online and influence the Web applications (Apps) they use.

There have been more arrests globally in the past year relating to social media posts as people choose to freely express themselves on social media and communication applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp.

“Internet freedom around the world declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year,” according to research and advocacy organiation Freedom House.

Compared with other Internet-active countries, however, South Africa remains relatively “free” online. South Africa is ranked 12th among countries for being free online. At the top of the list at number 1 is Estonia with China taking the last spot at number 65.

Akthough ranked relatively ‘free’, the freedom of South Africans to communicate and share information online is under threat. In March 2017 — a month dedicated to observing Human Rights in South Africa — State Security Minister David Mahlobo reiterated the country’s need to control social media in the country.

Mahlobo was responding to a question on what the government was doing to clamp down on fake news on social media platforms.

Reasons for considering regulating social media, according to Mahlobo, included the spread of fake news, the rising number of online scams and the government’s need to counter a “false narrative”. He was speaking at the Crime Prevention and Security Cluster media briefing in Pretoria.

Lobby groups in South Africa, including the Right2Know Campaign, have called on South Africans to demand a “withdrawal of any proposal to ‘regulate’ social media from the State Security Agency or any other State agency”.

It was not the first time the South African government had showed signs of acting on what could be deemed as infringements on the citizens’ right to freedom of information and freedom of expression. Just under a year ago, the South African government voted against a United Nations (UN) declaration aimed at “Promotion, Protection and Enjoyment of Human Rights on the Internet”.

This would have allowed the country to be able to turn the “Internet off” or create limited access to the Internet when the government found it necessary to do so. If successful, the government could potentially limit access to the Internet or Internet-based applications during protest or even government elections.

China, Russia and India were also among the other 15 countries which voted against the resolution. About 70 countries, including Australia, Brazil, Nigeria and Tunisia and the United States, voted for the resolution.