What is the Index Index?

The Index Index is a pilot project that uses innovative machine learning techniques to map the free expression landscape across the globe to gain a clearer country-by-country view of the state of free expression across academic, digital and media/press freedoms.

Working with experts in machine learning and journalism from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), Index on Censorship has launched this pilot project to allow everyone to scour the globe to see where free expression is adequately protected or most at risk based on data compiled from leading and trusted indices and metrics.  

Why is it needed?

Since its founding in 1972, Index on Censorship’s mission has been to map and bring to light violations of free expression wherever we find them. In the magazine’s first year, we launched the Index Index, which was a “quarterly chronicle of events around the world published to illustrate the ways in which freedom of expression is being variously curtailed or denied.” 

More data is being captured everyday on the health of the free expression landscape – from the number of journalists imprisoned or killed for doing their job to the economic cost of Internet disruptions, often deployed to disrupt the public’ right to know or ability to protest injustice. Using this, what can the Index Index tell us about the modern state of the world and how freely we can communicate, source information and express ourselves? 

In the dropdown below the map, you can scroll between the overall index and the indices for academic, digital and media/press freedom. To identify countries within each rank, please click on the rank level in the list next to the map

How did we do it?

Making the most of available data covering a period until the end of 2021, innovative modelling techniques and expertise from Liverpool John Moores University, this pilot project updates the Index Index to model data from a range of trusted sources to rank countries from open to closed against 178 variables related to free expression. 

Across Academic, Digital and Media/Press Freedom, the index modelled data compiled from a number of trusted sources including the World Press Freedom Index (compiled by Reporters Without Borders), the Varieties of Democracy research project (V-Dem), Committee to Protect Journalists, UNESCO’s Observatory of Killed Journalists, the Global Cybersecurity Index and Netblocks’ Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST). From these datasets, 178 relevant variables were identified and incorporated into the index.

Using machine learning techniques, each country for which there was available data for were clustered based on their standing against all variables and then sorted into deciles from open to closed. As a result of this process, the Index Index is made of four rankings, one overall Index, as well as rankings for each individual freedom: academic, digital and media/press freedom.  For information about the countries covered in the Index Index, please see the notes at the bottom of the page.

What does it tell us?

What the Index Index shows is a globe with a diverse set of threats to free expression. The countries with the highest overall ranking are clustered around western Europe and Australasia. When drilled down, many of these countries also dominate the countries who are in the 1st decile (open) for each of the individual freedoms – Australia, Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.  

The closed countries (10th decile), such as China, Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, South Sudan, North Korea and Saudi Arabia have long clamped down on free expression. This is borne out in the overall ranking and is further developed on as Belarus, Burma/Myanmar, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan and the United Arab Emirates were all in the 10th decile (closed) for all three individual freedoms. While many countries, such as Belarus, North Korea, and Eritrea, rated low on the index have been isolated from the global community, the Index Index also reveals how others, such as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates are embedded in key international mechanisms including G20 and the UN Security Council without substantial protections for free expression.

At a time where threats to free expression show few signs of slowing down, gaining a country-by-country view of threats to academic, digital and media/press freedom is the first necessary step towards identifying what needs to change. As an index of existing metrics, the Index Index also reveals gaps in what we know. Before we can protect free expression everywhere we need to be able to monitor all threats and identify who is behind them. To do this we need data across every measure for every country that can be verified and shared with partners and policy-makers. As the Index Index grows and develops beyond this pilot year, it can both map threats to free expression but also where we need to focus our efforts to ensure that academics, artists, writers, journalists, campaigners and civil society do not suffer in silence.  

Background

The Index Index comes at a time of increased threats to free expression everywhere. Authoritarian power has been consolidated in countries such as Belarus, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Burma/Myanmar, with opposition leaders, journalists, protestors, educators, artists, and activists being targeted with censorship, arrest, detention and even threats of violence. Civil conflict and its aftermath, in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan has severely hindered the development and maintenance of a vibrant civic space, while free expression in established democracies, such as the UK and USA, has faced unprecedented threats.

In 2021, the Committee to Protect Journalists monitored 45 deaths of journalists, with 302 journalists imprisoned as of 31 December 2021. The number of journalists behind bars was the highest number recorded, with China remaining the world’s worst jailer of journalists for the third year in a row, with Burma/Myanmar just behind after the media crackdown that followed the February military coup.

Online technology has redefined how people realise their right to free expression. Whether it is social media networks to connect with others or online archives to support independent research or reporting where the state controls all access to public interest information, the ability to access online tools shapes the broader free expression landscape. However, the same technology that can empower free expression can also be used to target those speaking out. Surveillance tools, including those developed by private companies, are commonly deployed against activists and journalists in both authoritarian and democratic countries to bypass encryption and monitor communication. Technical analysis based on leaked data and forensic analysis of phones uncovered evidence that contacts close to murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi were targeted by Pegasus surveillance tools prior to and following the brutal murder of the journalist. Nation states are also becoming more and more adept at controlling both access and the content available on online platforms. Internet slowdowns and shutdowns, targeted either at the entire nationwide infrastructure or specific platforms, impact all users of online services solely to stifle critical speech or disrupt dissident organising. While this may be a blunt instrument, other states, such as Russia and China, deploy more targeted censorship to block access to individual websites, including those of independent media outlets. To map free expression we must also map digital freedom to identify the barriers to expression that can consolidate state control and restrict critical speech.

Academics, researchers and teachers, as well as journalists and media workers are distinct threats to authoritarian regimes as they promote the free exchange of ideas and information, while also providing the public with necessary information upon which to participate in civic society. This is antithetical to many countries who seek to restrict and control all information available to the public. As a result, many academics and journalists face significant barriers to being able to continue their important work. This includes threats of physical violence, organised smear campaigns, calls to discredit individuals, and legal threats aimed at isolating and delaying writing and research produced in the public interest. 

What the Index Index shows is a complex free expression landscape where threats can come from a number of diverse and challenging places, threatening the ability of groups and individuals to speak up, challenge power and realise their fundamental freedoms. 

Table

Below find a table of all countries included in the Index Index. It highlights their ranking in the overall index, as well as the ranking for each individual freedom. Please note: The countries within each rank are sorted alphabetically. You can drill down into the data of the Index Index by clicking on the column headings to sort alphabetically or by ranking. Click on a country name to see Index’s work in that country. Use the search box to find a specific country.

Please note: The countries within each rank are sorted alphabetically 

Countries/NationsOverallAcademic freedomDigital freedomMedia/Press freedom
Australia1111
Austria1111
Belgium1111
Costa Rica1112
Denmark1211
Estonia1211
Finland1111
Germany1111
Ireland1111
Latvia1111
Lithuania1111
Netherlands1111
New Zealand1111
Norway1111
Portugal1112
Sweden1111
Switzerland1111
Barbados2332
Canada2231
Chile2223
Cyprus2223
Dominican Republic2342
France2322
Iceland2231
Israel2322
Italy2122
Jamaica2342
Japan2122
Luxembourg2231
Slovakia2122
South Korea2322
Spain2212
Uruguay2342
Botswana3342
Cape Verde3233
Czechia3223
Greece3223
Malta3342
Moldova3233
Namibia3453
Panama3443
Romania3223
Senegal3453
Seychelles3453
South Africa3223
Suriname3443
Taiwan3433
Trinidad and Tobago3233
Tunisia3433
United Kingdom3333
United States of America3433
Vanuatu3343
Argentina4234
Armenia4424
Bulgaria4424
Croatia4424
Georgia4424
Ghana4464
Guyana4464
Honduras4345
Hungary4535
Kosovo4454
Mongolia4334
Montenegro4334
Peru4234
Poland4535
Sao Tome and Principe4464
Sierra Leone4454
Slovenia4424
Solomon Islands4345
Albania5555
Angola5566
Benin5474
Ecuador5566
Guatemala5566
Guinea-Bissau5565
Kenya5566
Kyrgyzstan5566
Lesotho5566
Malawi5566
Mauritius5555
Mozambique5566
Niger5674
Paraguay5445
Tanzania5674
The Gambia5565
Timor-Leste5565
Bolivia6646
Bosnia and Herzegovina6646
Brazil6647
Burkina Faso6676
El Salvador6667
Fiji6775
Gabon6676
Malaysia6785
Maldives6665
Mexico6647
Nepal6775
Nigeria6646
North Macedonia6646
Serbia6647
Singapore6884
Togo6676
Bhutan7886
Central African Republic7677
Colombia7758
Comoros7767
Democratic Republic of the Congo7768
Haiti7677
India7777
Indonesia7767
Ivory Coast7767
Jordan7886
Kuwait7886
Lebanon7758
Madagascar7767
Mali7777
Mauritania7677
Morocco7886
Pakistan7777
Philippines7767
Sri Lanka7767
Ukraine7758
Zambia7677
Afghanistan8789
Cameroon8879
Chad8779
Ethiopia8888
Guinea8879
Hong Kong8988
Iraq8879
Libya8888
Palestine8789
Rwanda8887
Thailand8888
Uganda8888
Venezuela8988
Zimbabwe8889
Algeria9999
Azerbaijan9999
Bangladesh9999
Burundi9999
Cambodia9999
Djibouti9999
Egypt910109
Iran9999
Kazakhstan9999
Oman99108
Qatar910108
Republic of the Congo98910
Russia9999
Somalia9889
Sudan98910
Tajikistan9999
Turkiye9999
Uzbekistan99108
Vietnam910109
Bahrain1010910
Belarus10101010
Burma/Myanmar10101010
China1010109
Cuba10101010
Equatorial Guinea10101010
Eritrea10101010
Eswatini109910
Laos10101010
Nicaragua1010910
North Korea10101010
Saudi Arabia10101010
South Sudan10101010
Syria10101010
Turkmenistan10101010
United Arab Emirates10101010
Yemen1010910

Notes on the Index Index

As this is an index of indices, the Index Index is limited to the data used by the indices that make up the dataset. As a result, the Index Index does not include all countries. It includes and omits both UN and non-UN member states, countries with observer status, as well as other countries which may be autonomous parts of other states. For instance, the Index Index includes Kosovo and Taiwan, political entities not recognised as United Nations (UN) member states; while lacking data for Greenland, an autonomous part of Denmark. Autonomous parts of the UK, such as the British Overseas Territories, and overseas parts of France, each carry the ranking of the state to which they are linked, although the nature of these overseas territories differ significantly.

Due to gaps in the datasets, the Index Index does not have data for Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Samoa, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent, the Grenadines, Grenada, Andorra, Liechtenstein, San Marino and the Holy See. 

For further technical reasons, some of the countries included in the table cannot be visualised on the interactive map. 

The Index Index was developed by Index on Censorship and a team from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU), which included Drewery Dyke, Advisor, Index on Censorship;  Dr Ivan Olier, Senior Lecturer in Data Science at LJMU; Dr Sandra Ortega-Martorell, Senior Lecturer in Data Science at LJMU; Ryan Bellfield, PhD student at LJMU; and Dr Steve Harrison, Senior Lecturer in Journalism at LJMU.