Government manipulation on social media networks increasing, says global report

BPA via Getty Images

BPA via Getty Images

Past year independent online watchdog Freedom House pointed to the huge rise in countries censoring messaging apps like WhatsApp in its Freedom on the Net report.

"Governments in a total of 30 countries deployed some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 the previous year", Freedom House reports, indicating that there wasn't just manipulation from other countries, as seen with Russian Federation in the United States 2016 elections, but from local governments intervening to assure a victory in upcoming elections.

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.

Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project, said: "Governments are now using social media to suppress dissent and advance an antidemocratic agenda". "The content manipulation contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, along with a rise in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media", it said.

Less than 25 percent of the world has access to what is understood as "free internet", meaning there are no restrictions or limitations on what users can see or do.

These efforts included paid commentators, trolls, "bots" - the name given to automated accounts - false news sites and propaganda outlets, according to this year's Freedom On The Net report by human rights group Freedom House.

The report comes after an alleged Russia-led campaign was exposed during 2016's U.S. presidential election campaign - shining a bright light on similar, seemingly state-backed, cases of cyber-meddling.

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.

Georgia received 24 points, which means the country has a status of a free country in terms of internet. And a new law "strengthened internet companies" obligation to register users under their real names and assist security agencies with investigations.

"When trying to combat online manipulation from overseas, it is important for countries not to overreach", Kelly said. Freedom House reports that attacks against these figures rose 50 percent in the a year ago, with Syria, Mexico, Brazil and Pakistan at the top of the list. "The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary". The most notable declines were documented in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey.

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