Governments in 30 countries pay 'keyboard armies' to spread propaganda, report says

Freedom

Almost half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net 2017 experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made gains, majority minor, Freedom House reported.

The organization says 2017 marked a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom as a result of these and other efforts to filter and censor information online.

Overall 32 of the 65 countries in the report have seen their internet freedom deteriorate over the previous year, most notably in Ukraine, Egypt and Turkey.

Freedom House, a US-based human rights watchdog, also claims that the Philippine government has been employing what it called a "keyboard army" that is specifically paid to make it appear that the Duterte administration's controversial and deadly war on drugs has been gaining widespread public support.

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

China was the worst offender among the 65 nations assessed, followed by Ethiopia and Syria.

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

"Internet freedom improved in Georgia this year as internet penetration increased, and despite a brief blocking incident involving video-hosting platform Vimeo, the internet remained relatively free from censorship", the report reads.

While most governments targeted local public opinion, the report says Russia's campaign to influence the November 2016 USA presidential election was a prime example of efforts that had a cross-border impact.

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

Less than a quarter of the world's internet users reside in countries where networks are designated as "free", which, according to Freedom House, means that "there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech". There's also Russia's accused meddling in the American presidential election, which was plagued by fake news.

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