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It's not just Russian Federation, 30 countries used the internet to manipulate elections

14 November 2017

Governments in 30 countries manipulated information on social media in an effort to advance their agendas and suppress dissent, a US -based rights group said in its annual report on Internet freedom.

This is threatening the use of the internet as a liberating form of communication between individuals, the civil liberties group claims.

The NGO, which conducts research and advocacy on democracy and human rights, says elections in 18 countries suffered from those tactics, including the United States itself.

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.

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"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 Michael J. Abramowitz, president of Freedom House.

The report "Freedom of the Net 2017" assesses the situation in 65 countries, or 87 per cent of global internet users, from June 2016 to May 2017.

Governments in 30 of these countries are using manipulation tools to distort online information, compared to 23 per cent a year ago. At least 16 countries had "prominent examples of fake news around elections or referendums".

The report regards China as the worst abuser of Internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia.

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The report cited the Philippines, where members of a "keyboard army" are tasked with amplifying the impression of widespread support of the government's brutal crackdown on the drug trade.

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. It notes that 6,000 people reportedly were employed on social media by Turkey's ruling party to counter government opposition.

Looking ahead, Abramowitz and Freedom House warned about the rise of live video being restricted, with services like Facebook Live and Snapchat's Stories facing restrictions in at least nine countries, often to stop the streaming of anti-government protests like in Belarus. For instance, Ukraine has stopped citizens from accessing Russia-based services.

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

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It's not just Russian Federation, 30 countries used the internet to manipulate elections