Govt manipulation on social media increasing

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This manipulation and disinformation had damaged citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate, the report said.

Governments are increasing efforts to manipulate information on social media, a Washington-based advocacy group said Tuesday.

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 U.S., thereby "damaging citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate", reports Efe news. According to Freedom House, internet freedom in the USA has now declined since the previous year.

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

They include paid commentators, trolls, bots and fake news, which are used to harass journalists, flood social media with fabricated opinions and erode trust in other media.

The report also named and shamed the countries involved in suppressing freedoms, and perhaps unsurprisingly, found that China (for the third consecutive year) was the world's worst abuser of internet freedom.

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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 Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz, adding that the rapid spread of such techniques is "potentially devastating" for democracy.

Since June 2016, 32 of the 65 countries assessed saw internet freedoms deteriorate, the researchers found.

Governments around the world are increasingly resorting to social media manipulation.

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.

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.

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.