The politics of internet freedom rankings
Tetyana Lokot, Mariëlle Wijermars
Internet Policy Review
School of Communications

Today, internet freedom remains in the eyes of the beholder – or, in this case, the eyes of those who design the various indexes assessing it. But why are there multiple, competing rankings? What can the development of this rankings landscape tell us about the shifting understandings of what internet freedom is, and about who stands to gain from how it is operationalised?

International rankings play an active role in defining the issue they claim to capture and giving the issue salience by presenting it as a matter of global concern. As internet access expanded globally, the past two decades have seen a rapid proliferation of indexes measuring and comparing the state of internet freedom around the globe.

This DCU collaboration examines the politics of these rankings, which have become powerful “global pattern-setters” for how internet freedom is understood and that are used as tools of political or diplomatic influence. Since both the uses of the internet and discussions about defining what freedom means in relation to it have developed so rapidly, we argue that the complexity of internet freedom poses unique challenges and has required ranking organisations to continually respond to these developments, negotiating their authority in relation to other actors in their field.