Governments Accused Of Social Media Manipulation

Governments Accused Of Social Media Manipulation

Citizens are struggling to choose leaders based on factual news and authentic information because there's an influx of manipulated content appearing on their screens.

Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as did a rise in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media.

Freedom House is a US-based, U.S. government-funded non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom and human rights.

The report looked at the internet freedom of 65 countries, covering 87 per cent of internet users, and focused on developments between June 2016 and May 2017.

Internet watchdog Freedom House said Tuesday (14 November) that social media had become a key battleground where paid trolls, Twitter bots and fake news websites now roam freely.

"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".

The countries in question include Russian Federation, the United States, and China - with China being the worst abuser of internet freedoms for the third consecutive year.

The report picks out the Philippines, where the current administration has hired an army of posters to amplify support for Duterte's bloody crackdown on drug dealers; and Turkey, where 6000 netizens have apparently been recruited to do the government's bidding online. "Not only is this manipulation hard to detect, it is more hard to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it's dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it".

Less than a quarter of the world's internet users reside in countries where networks are designated as "free", which, according to Freedom House, means that "there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech".

The report follows attempts by Russia to meddle with the United States 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.

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