Expressions of Fear and Hope Follow Publication of Latest World Web Index

Written by David Michaelis — The World Wide Web Foundation issued a warning recently about the impact of the Internet on people and countries. Surveillance, for one thing, has become more pervasive over the years. But there is hope. Social media, often derided and dismissed, now plays a significant role in the growth of independent journalism and democracy. In other words, the glass is half-full (see map below). The World Wide Web Foundation’s annual Web Index placed Sweden in the top spot for the second year in a row. It was followed by Norway, the UK and the U.S. Yemen is the lowest-ranking country in the index.

British computer scientist and the inventor of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, warned that the “UK and U.S. must do more to protect Internet users’ privacy.” He warned that “a growing tide of surveillance and censorship posed a threat to the future of democracy, even as more and more people were using the Internet to expose wrongdoing.” See more here.

“Countries that top the Web Index perform well on all index dimensions,” said Anne Jellema, the World Wide Web Foundation’s CEO. “Their citizens can get online easily and cheaply, content serves their needs, rights to privacy and free expression are protected, and innovation is encouraged.” Berners-Lee, also founder of the organization, launched the survey to create a comprehensive picture of the Web’s role in national development and individual empowerment.

According to the foundation, the map below indicates how the Internet and social media play a significant (pink) or major (red) role in political mobilization.

Web and social media played a significant (pink) or major (red) role in political mobilization, according to the World Wide Web Foundation.

“One of the most encouraging findings of this year’s Web Index,” Berners-Lee said, “is how the Web and social media are increasingly spurring people to organize, take action and try to expose wrongdoing in every region of the world.” See more here.

Berners-Lee said in his recent address to the Open Government Partnership, “Democracy requires a technical  infrastructure, which is increasingly provided by the Web.” He proposed that a free and open Web means, “Don’t block me, don’t spy on me.”

The Hope — Citizens Voices

My friend David Hoffman, founder of Internews, has written an eye-opening historical overview about the development of citizen voices. Hoffman is a true visionary and has a knack for skewering conventional wisdom (see more about Citizens Rising here). The book confirms the results of the index, showing how the media has the power to change and influence through independent and social media — even against all odds of surveillance and dictatorships, and, yes, even against NSA and KGB invasions of privacy. Hoffman writes, “These citizen uprisings represent a new force on the world stage that serves as a counterweight to the excesses of our current political order, whether democratic or authoritarian. The grass-roots are stirring and politicians everywhere must pay attention.” Hoffman says that this is the new Fourth Estate. A citizens-fourth estate.

The Citizen Brown Moses-see

Best single example is Eliot Higgins, an unemployed blogger from Leicester, England, has never been to Syria, but he is perhaps the foremost expert on the munitions used in the war. On YouTube, he scans as many as three hundred new videos a day, with the patience of an ornithologist. Recently, his Brown Moses Blog confirmed that Syria had used chemical weapons.

The Internet as a Catalyst for Change in Yemen

The good news for the people in Yemen is that an Internet society has been created this year. The country has one of the lowest literacy rates in the Middle East, yet the country’s young people have taken the initiative to host various Internet-awareness events. They seem to understand where their future next step needs to be.

“The economy is suffering, illiteracy levels are among the highest in the world, and most high school and university graduates are struggling to find work,” writes Walid Al-Saqaf in a recent post on “Even worse, the security situation is dire: assassinations, kidnappings, and other violent acts have become routine. This is the state of Yemen today.” As a result Yemeni youth have initiated Tedx and other Internet citizens events.

Between Yemen and the USA there is digital divide. But as the founder of reddit, Alexis Ohanian says, “the Internet only works if all links are created equal.” So I guess it all depends what people and institutions do with them. The tools are yours. See below.

Tools for citizen journalism. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

For, I’m David Michaelis.

Based in Australia, David Michaelis is a world-renowned international journalist and founder of Link Tv. At, he covers the global beat, focusing on politics and other international topics of note for our readers in a variety of forums. Email him at