Rights Group Sees Governments Increasing Social Media Manipulation Undermining Democracy

James Marshall
November 14, 2017

Internet freedom has declined for a seventh consecutive year, and there's also been a rise in disruption in mobile internet service and technical attacks against human rights organisations.

China was the worst offender among the 65 nations assessed, followed by Ethiopia and Syria.

In its annual report released late Monday, the Washington-based Freedom House said that manipulation and disinformation tactics on the internet played an important role in the elections of at least 18 countries, including the USA, thereby "damaging citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate", reports Efe news.

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

Georgia received 24 points, which means the country has a status of a free country in terms of internet.

The report, published by Freedom House, claims that governments are increasingly manipulating information on social media and threatening the use of the internet as a liberating form of communication.

"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.

Russia's online efforts to influence the American election have been well documented, but the United States was hardly alone in this respect. The report's authors warned that the techniques had become far more advanced and widespread in recent years, and said fake news had been employed in an attempt to influence elections in 18 countries, including the UK.

Governments in 30 of these countries are using manipulation tools to distort online information, compared to 23 per cent a year ago.

This year the group said 30 of the 65 countries it surveyed used paid commentators, trolls, bots, fake news sites and propaganda outlets to inflate popular support for their governments and manipulate elections - up from just 23 last year.

Meanwhile, as Russian Federation sought to spread disinformation to influence the elections in the U.S. and Europe, the Kremlin also tightened its internal controls, the report said.

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

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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