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Freedom House: Governments' increasing use of social media undermining democracy

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A study of internet freedom in 65 countries found 30 governments are deploying some form of manipulation to distort online information

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

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

Online manipulation and propaganda played an important role in elections not only in the U.S., but in 17 other countries around the globe in the year ending May 31, according to the lastest Freedom of the Net report from Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that promotes democracy and civil liberties.

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.

"Not only is this manipulation hard to detect, it is more hard to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it's dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it", said Sanja Kelly, head of the Freedom on the Net research project. "Not only is this manipulation hard to detect, it is more hard to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it's dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it".

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

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The Philippines is a prolific example of a country deploying such technologies.

Such tactics are also being used more generally by governments to inflate their own popularity, with paid commentators, trolls, bots, fake news sites and propaganda outlets all common tactics, according to the report. Outside of election periods, similar disinformation efforts took place in even more countries.

According to the survey, the lowest scorer country enjoys the highest internet freedom.

Russia, in particular, said the report, had made significant efforts to influence the United States presidential election. The assessment was carried out in 65 countries, which make up 87 percent of the world's internet usage - showing questionable election results go far beyond fake news in the US. In Ethiopia, the government shut down mobile networks for almost two months as part of a state of emergency declared in October 2016 amid large-scale antigovernment protests.

But the most worrying figure remains journalists attacked offline for content they shared online. Let's hope that number increases before the internet becomes a real-life version if 1984. Most notable declines were documented in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey.

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