Research

Your government is probably manipulating you on social media

Your government is probably manipulating you on social media

The report follows attempts by Russia to meddle with the USA presidential election between June 2015 and May 2017, when adverts paid for by a Russian organization called the "Internet Research Agency" appeared on American citizens' Facebook pages in an apparent bid to fuel political discord.

"Governments are now using social media to suppress dissent and advance an anti-democratic agenda", said Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project.

The 48-page "Freedom on the Net 2017" report by Freedom House, an organization dedicated to research of democracy and political freedom, says that elections in at least 18 countries in 2017 included significant roles played by online disinformation tactics.

Russia, which ranked 15th-worst, saw a decline in Internet freedom bolstered by the "hypocritical link between state propaganda and legal restrictions on the media", while countries like Belarus, which ranked 18th-worst, disrupted mobile connectivity to prevent live-streamed images from reaching mass audiences, the report said. Most governments targeted public opinion within their own borders, the report stated.

But Russia isn't alone in these practices.

The report shows that the lowest "internet freedom" score - perhaps unsurprisingly - goes to China, but regimes in Turkey, Sudan, Venezuela and the Philippines are also poor performers.

Governments are increasing efforts to manipulate information on social media, a Washington-based advocacy group said Tuesday.

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Almost half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net 2017 experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made gains, majority minor, Freedom House reported.

Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House, said: "The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russian Federation but has now gone global".

"The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating."
At least 16 countries had "prominent examples of fake news around elections or referendums". Those attempts were often made to stop the broadcast of anti-government demonstrations.

Political mudslinging is a concept as old as politics itself, but in recent years it's found its way off the podium and onto the internet, and a new report now shows the extent of the problem.

"Internet freedom improved in Georgia this year as internet penetration increased, and despite a brief blocking incident involving video-hosting platform Vimeo, the internet remained relatively free from censorship", the report reads.

Governments in at least 14 countries were accused of actually restricting internet freedom to fend off content manipulation.


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