More nations using social media to spread propaganda, study finds

Ruben Fields
November 7, 2019

Governments around the world are increasingly using social media to manipulate elections and monitor their citizens, in a worrisome trend for democracy, a human rights watchdog said yesterday.

According to the Freedom on the Net report, positive changes unleashed in Armenia by the 2018 Velvet Revolution continued in 2019 as well, with "reformist prime minister Nikol Pashinyan presiding over a reduction in restrictions on content and violations of users' rights". This was revealed in the annual report on internet freedom across the world.

These newest findings come three years after Russian actors used social media to interfere in the USA presidential election.

Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russian Federation have been ranked by Freedom House as "not free" countries in terms of Internet freedom.

"Developments in AI are driving a booming, unregulated sector for social media surveillance".

Although Freedom House said that the USA enjoys some of the greatest internet freedoms in the world, its placement in the worldwide rankings declined for the third year in a row.

According to the report, "Censorship reached unprecedented extremes as the government enhanced its information controls in advance of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and in the face of widespread antigovernment protests in Hong Kong".

"The upcoming of net freedom rests on our potential to fix social media", Shahbaz explained. It became the best protector of citizens' internet rights with no civil or criminal case against internet users for expressing themselves.

China was also found to have increased its efforts to use online platforms to influence foreign political outcomes, including cyberattacks and information warfare linked to interference in the 2019 federal elections in Australia.

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Over the past year, Freedom House assessed 65 countries for their report.

The scientists stated that in 47 out of the 65 nations around the world, people were being arrested for political, social, or spiritual speech on the net and men and women ended up subjected to actual physical violence for their on the net activities in at the very least 31 nations.

The biggest declines were in Sudan and Kazakhstan, followed by Brazil, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. Improvements ended up measured in 16 countries, with Ethiopia recording the premier gains.

In the Philippines, for example, it said candidates paid social media "micro-influencers" to promote their campaigns on Facebook Inc FB.O , Twitter Inc TWTR.N and Instagram, where they peppered political endorsements among popular culture content.

In the U.S., "law enforcement and immigration agencies expanded their surveillance of the public, eschewing oversight, transparency, and accountability mechanisms that might restrain their actions", Freedom House said.

According to the watchdog, there were enormous connectivity restrictions and disinformation in the 2018 general elections.

The report mentions that officials from the Philippines traveled to North Carolina to receive training on developing a new social media monitoring unit. Also, more governments are using automated "bots" and phony accounts to manipulate posts, it concluded.

The authors claim that politicians in 38 of the 65 countries surveyed "employed individuals to surreptitiously shape online opinions", a record high.

Freedom House experts noted active manipulation of public debate in the Ukrainian digital environment through disinformation and paid content.

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