Advocacy group says social media manipulation by governments on the rise

By Ed Adamczyk  |  Nov. 14, 2017 at 10:51 AM
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Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Governments are increasing efforts to manipulate information on social media, a Washington-based advocacy group said Tuesday.

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. It noted what it called an "online decline in Internet freedom" for the seventh consecutive year.

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

It cited the Philippines, in which a "keyboard army" is used to persuade online users that the public is supportive of the government's crackdown on the country's drug trade. It notes that 6,000 people reportedly were employed on social media by Turkey's ruling party to counter government opposition. It also notes that some countries actively blocked attempts to restrict freedom, noting Ukraine's actions against Russian-based search engines.

The report regards China as the worst abuser of Internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government totally shut down mobile networks for two months in a state of emergency during wide-scale anti-government protests.

It said the countries with the fewest government Internet restrictions were, in order, Estonia, Iceland, Canada, Germany, Australia and the United States.

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