According to Freedom in the World, a report issued by Freedom House which purports to track developments in political freedom across 195 different countries, the year 2020 marked the 15th consecutive year that registered an overall global decline in freedom.

Of course, this report absurdly blames Donald Trump for global declines in freedom in 2020, but despite this asinine interpretation, the data the report marshals is incredibly useful for giving a picture of where the world might be headed.

Freedom in Decline

The 2021 edition of Freedom in the World, which covered the events of 2020, ultimately concludes that 73 out of the 195 countries studied in the report experienced declines in overall freedom that year. Unfortunately, only 28 countries made gains in freedom last year, making this the largest such disparity in 15 years.

Perhaps the most startling data point in the report is that there are now 54 countries in the world that are considered unfree. These countries collectively contain about 38% of the world’s population. Less than 20% of the world’s population now still lives in what the report deems a “free” country.

In particular, as might be expected, COVID-19 and the authoritarian lockdowns imposed by politicians in its wake—which damaged the economies of first-world nations and absolutely devastated the Third World—were responsible for 42 score declines across 36 countries and territories.

The report focuses particular attention on countries like India and China. It describes the heavy-handed crackdown of the Chinese against Hong Kong and how “Beijing ramped up its global disinformation and censorship campaign to counter the fallout from its cover-up of the initial coronavirus outbreak…” It also talks about the rise of populists like Viktor Orban in Hungary and Narendra Modi in India.

Why Is This Happening?

The report blames the United States’ decline in its freedom index on Donald Trump, but there is an alternative and more comprehensive explanation. This explanation accounts for the declines in freedom not only in the United States but in all countries unfortunate enough to have experienced them.

Starting in the 1990s, when the internet became a major force in the world, political elites were dealt a fatal blow to their ability to control the flow of information, though they did not immediately realize this. As the years went on and skepticism of official news sources started growing around the world—largely because the internet gave people access to alternatives and enabled them to hear information that would otherwise have remained hidden—elites began perceiving the threat to their power.

Since all political power ultimately depends on the elite’s ability to control the flow of information and make sure that the subject class continues to believe in the elite’s legitimacy, the elite came to see itself as under threat. This is why China has a massive firewall that separates it from the rest of the internet. It is why India experiences regular internet shutdowns. It is also why politicians have been calling on social media companies to censor certain kinds of political speech and issuing insincere complaints about the spread of “disinformation.”

Ironically, while promising people more freedoms, the internet triggered a reaction from a desperate elite.