Your government is probably manipulating you on social media

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

The non-profit's annual Freedom on the Net report makes for grim reading for those who fear the democratic process is being undermined by manipulation of sentiment on social platforms.

Freedom House says China was the world's worst abuser of internet freedom for a third straight year, due to stepped-up online censorship, a new law cracking down on anonymity online and the imprisonment of dissidents using the web.

Russia's online efforts to influence the American election have been well documented, but the United States was hardly alone in this respect.

Online manipulation and disinformation tactics were used in elections of around 18 countries in the past year, Freedom House claims, including the USA presidential elections.

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

Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, as did a rise in disruptions to mobile internet service and increases in physical and technical attacks on human rights defenders and independent media. The Ethiopian government totally shut down mobile networks for two months in a state of emergency during wide-scale anti-government protests.

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.

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Zero point equals the most internet free country, while the 100 point is the worst indicator. Government techniques include the use of paid commentators, trolls, bots, false news sites, and propaganda outlets to inflate their support and essentially endorse themselves.

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

Freedom House, a global organisation working for the expansion of freedom and democracy, conducted the survey titled "Freedom on the Net" assessing 65 countries including Bangladesh on their levels of internet and digital media freedom.

"When trying to combat online manipulation from overseas, 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", Kelly warned.

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