Who is welcome online?

Everyone deserves equal opportunity to access the Internet, and to use it to improve their lives and societies.

The strength of the open Internet is the ability of its users to shape the Web itself and thereby shape society. Like society, the Internet grows stronger with every new voice.

But there are many barriers that prevent the full diversity of the world from being reflected online. More than half of the world is still without Internet, and even people who do have access may be limited by factors like high cost, unreliable connections or censorship.

Language is also barrier, since Web content is predominantly in English, even though people who don’t speak English outnumber those who do.

There are other ways technology is skewed to reflect the unconscious biases of their creators thanks to years of inattention to diversity. Take for instance, how algorithms can perpetuate racial stereotypes in targeted advertising, or how languages like Hindi, Urdu, and Bangla are difficult to type on a standard computer keyboard.

Skip to data visuals


Today, over three billion people are online. There are now more Internet users in emerging economies than in developed economies, which is a big step towards increasing the diversity of voices online. That’s worth celebrating. Mobile phones have put the Internet within reach of more young people, women and rural areas than ever before.

Universal Internet access in Least Developed Countries by 2020 is one of the United Nation’s new Sustainable Development Goals. Countless policies need to change to get billions of people online in three years, but the fact that Internet access now registers broadly as crucial to development, or as a human right in some contexts, is progress.

The free, crowdsourced online encyclopedia Wikipedia continues to be a free fountain of knowledge to the tune of 16 billion pageviews a month in 284 languages.

Dynamic technology and innovation hubs communities in developing countries are expanding to develop online services and businesses that meet local needs.


Despite great progress in Internet adoption worldwide, access is not equally distributed. People living in wealthier countries have far greater access, and it is well documented that Internet adoption is slower for women than men almost everywhere in the world. Lack of skills and awareness of why the Internet is valuable is one of the principle reasons people don’t get online.

At worst, the Internet can reinforce and exacerbate existing inequities, divisions and discriminatory practices—and may even introduce new threats. Online harassment is a growing plague. Women in particular are targets across a range of platforms, as are minorities everywhere. This inevitably leads to mistrust and retreat from the Web – which in turn depletes diversity online and harms the health of the Internet overall.

Several governments are trigger-happy about temporarily switching off all or parts of the Internet with reasoning ranging from national security, to cheating on school exams, but ultimately threatening human rights and causing significant economic losses. In 2016, there were 51 intentional Internet shutdowns in 18 countries, according to AccessNow.


The obstacles in the way of making the Internet accessible and welcoming for all are numerous, and won’t be overcome by waiting. It will take sustained action. As more people come online, we need corporations, governments and civil society to work together to develop better broadband policies, and new business models for equitable access.

We also need new practices and incentives for local content creation and visibility, and ways in which users themselves can play a stronger role in contributing to the Web, in whatever language, format or medium that is most locally relevant.

And in response to the trolls, mobs and haters who undermine respectful civil discourse online, we need a combination of community action and technological solutions. Hatred, racism and bigotry can be stomped out online at least as well as offline.

The goal of digital inclusion presupposes that being connected is positive. We all bear responsibility for ensuring this is true for everyone.

Data visuals


Number of people online

Half of the world is still offline.

3.3 billion people are online. That’s a lot, but we need more policies to bring rich and poor online affordably and in meaningful ways. People who only have mobile Web access, can’t as easily do things like write essays, apply for jobs, or other things that can influence economic growth.


Internet penetration rate

Big digital divides persist, especially in the least wealthy countries.

Internet access is skyrocketing in some regions, but poor, rural and marginalized populations are least likely to benefit. Unless policies change fast, only 16% of people in least developed countries will be online by 2020.


Number of people who can afford to go online

58% of people in the world can't afford an Internet connection.

Affordable” is widely agreed to be less than 5% of GDP per capita for entry level broadband services, but even that is a steep price for the slow and unreliable Internet in many countries. Also, the lowest percentages of women online are in countries where mobile Internet costs the most.

57.8% of the world’s population cannot afford broadband Internet service

39.5% of the world’s population cannot afford Internet on their phone or mobile device


Internet users by language vs. content

Chinese is the second biggest language on the Internet in terms of users, but only 2% of Web content is in Chinese.

Only some of the top 9 languages for Web content (English, Russian, German, Japanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese) correlate with the number of users. Most languages on the Web are underrepresented.

Percentage of internet users

Percentage of internet content

custom-chart-english English Russian German Japanese Spanish French Portugese Chinese Arabic


Online dominance of English

52% of all websites are in English, even though only 25% of the global population understands English.

The percentage of content in English decreases only slowly now, but used to be as high as 75% of all webpages in 1998. When people can read, experience and create content in their own language, Internet health improves.


Internet freedom

Censorship is alive on the Internet.

Internet freedom is in decline for the sixth consecutive year, according to democracy watchdog Freedom House in the US. Their 2016 report ranks the majority of 65 countries studied as either “not free” or only “partly free”.

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