Among the concerns raised in the report included the authorities decision to block popular news sites and critical blogs which are seen to be critical of the government.
“The ruling party urged members to master the use of the social media to win the war of perception ahead of the general election in 2018, and officials took steps to combat fake news,” said the report.
The report also pointed out that the government continued to charge social media users, civil society activists, and politicians for online remarks.
It highlighted cases of Facebook users being investigated and charged for comments made online.
“A news outlet was raided over a video criticising the Attorney-General,” it said, referring to the raid and subsequent prosecution against KiniTV, a subsidiary of popular website Malaysiakini.
It also pointed out Prime Minister Najib Razak’s defamation suits filed against news portals and opposition leaders for comments made online.
The report however praised Malaysia for its internet access which it said was considered excellent for the region, despite a digital divide between rural and urban areas.
“Government policies that promote access high mobile phone penetration is reducing this gap.
“An open market allows fierce competition among providers, resulting in attractive pricing and high quality service,” it said.
Malaysia has been stuck in the “partly free” category for the past five years. Last year, it obtained a score of 45, in 2015 (43), 2014 (42), 2013 (44) and 2012 (43), with the score of 0 being “most free”, and 100 being “least free”.
When compared to our Asean neighbours, Malaysia is in the same category as Singapore (41), Indonesia (47) and Cambodia (52). Three other Asean countries are labelled as ”not free” – Thailand (67), Myanmar (63) and Vietnam (76). The Philippines is slated as ”free” with a score of 28.
Freedom on the Net 2017 assessed internet freedom in 65 countries, accounting for 87 percent of internet users worldwide. The report primarily focused on developments that occurred between June 2016 and May 2017, although some more recent events were included as well.
Since June 2016, 32 of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net saw internet freedom deteriorate. Most notable declines were documented in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey.
Key findings of the global report
> Governments manipulated social media to undermine democracy: Governments in 30 countries of the 65 countries assessed attempted to control online discussions. The practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated over last few years.
> State censors targeted mobile connectivity: An increasing number of governments have restricted mobile internet service for political or security reasons. Half of all internet shutdowns in the past year were specific to mobile connectivity, with most others affecting mobile and fixed-line service simultaneously. Most mobile shutdowns occurred in areas populated with ethnic or religious minorities such as Tibetan areas in China and Oromo areas in Ethiopia.
> More governments restricted live video: As live video gained popularity with the emergence of platforms like Facebook Live and Snapchat’s Live Stories, internet users faced restrictions or attacks for live streaming in at least nine countries, often to prevent streaming of anti-government protests. Countries likes Belarus disrupted mobile connectivity to prevent livestreamed images from reaching mass audience.
> Technical attacks against news outlets, opposition, and rights defenders increased: Cyberattacks against government critics were documented in 34 out of 65 countries. Many governments took additional steps to restrict encryption, leaving citizens further exposed.
> New restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs): 14 countries now restrict tools used to circumvent censorship in some form and six countries introduced new restrictions, either legal bans or technical blocks on VPN websites or network traffic.
> Physical attacks against netizens and online journalists expanded dramatically: The number of countries that featured physical reprisals for online speech increased by 50 percent over the past year—from 20 to 30 of the countries assessed. In eight countries, people were murdered for their online expression. In Jordan, a Christian cartoonist was murdered for mocking Islamist militants’ vision of heaven, while in Myanmar, a journalist was murdered after posting on Facebook notes that alleged corruption.
> Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States.
> Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as did a rise in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media.
> A record number of governments have restricted mobile internet service for political or security reasons, often in areas populated by ethnic or religious minorities.
For the third consecutive year, China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia.