Freedom House: Governments' increasing use of social media undermining democracy

At least 30 governments are using dodgy social media tactics for propaganda and manipulation

At least 30 governments are using dodgy social media tactics for propaganda and manipulation

The advocacy group Freedom House said in a report on Tuesday that government are increasing their efforts to manipulates social media information.

The group surveyed Internet use in 65 countries, noting that governments in 30 countries used some form of online manipulation.

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.

A report by Freedom House found that citizens' freedom to vote is being attacked by outside influences as well as their own governments.

"The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russian Federation but has now gone global", said Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz, adding that the rapid spread of such techniques is "potentially devastating" for democracy. The report examines internet freedoms in 65 countries representing 87 percent of all internet users, and shows internet freedoms declining in 32 of the countries since June 2016, with the most notable declines observed in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey. "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". It said that paid commentators, trolls, bots, false news sites, and propaganda outlets were among the techniques used by government leaders to increase their influence.

The way it's been covered, you might think that Russia's alleged attempt to manipulate last year's USA presidential election was the only time such an online propaganda campaign has ever been waged.

"The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating", added Ms Kelly.

"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 reports reads. Fake news and aggressive trolling of journalists both during and after the presidential election contributed to a score decline in the United States' otherwise generally free environment.

"Internet freedom around the world has declined in 2016 for the sixth consecutive year", the report said. The Ethiopian government totally shut down mobile networks for two months in a state of emergency during wide-scale anti-government protests.

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