More Govts Suppress Dissent, Manipulate Media With ‘Bots’: Study
More governments are following the lead of Russia and China by manipulating social media and suppressing dissent online in a grave threat to democracy, a human rights watchdog said on Tuesday, 14 November.
A study of internet freedom in 65 countries found 30 governments are deploying some form of manipulation to distort online information, up by 23 from the previous year.
The report said online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries in 2016, including the United States.
“The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating.”
Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project, explained such manipulation is often hard to detect, and “more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking.”
The organisation said 2017 marked the seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as a result of these and other efforts to filter and censor information online.
Other countries also increased their efforts to censor and manipulate information, the report said.
This included a “keyboard army” of people employed and paid $10 a day by the Philippine government to amplify the impression of widespread support of a brutal drugs crackdown, and Turkey's use of an estimated 6,000 people to counter government opponents on social media.
Bloggers who attract more than 3,000 daily visitors must register their personal details with the Russian government and abide by the law regulating mass media – while search engines and news aggregators are banned from including stories from unregistered outlets.
The study also found governments in at least 14 countries restricted internet freedom in a bid to address content manipulation.
“When trying to combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach,” Kelly said.
“The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary. Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline.”