30 governments interfering with Internet freedom

Freedom

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

One of the key findings in this year's report is that "online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States". It noted what it called an "online decline in Internet freedom" for the seventh consecutive year.

"Governments in a total of 30 countries deployed some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 the previous year", Freedom House reports, indicating that there wasn't just manipulation from other countries, as seen with Russian Federation in the USA 2016 elections, but from local governments intervening to assure a victory in upcoming elections.

It cited the Philippines, in which a "keyboard army" is used to persuade online users that the public is supportive of the government's crackdown on the country's drug trade.

And in Turkey, around 6,000 are believed to be employed by the government to fight political opponents on social media sites.

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

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.

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"When trying to combat online manipulation from overseas, it is important for countries not to overreach", Kelly said.

The issue of "fake news" produced by online trolls and disseminated by automated bot accounts gained attention during last year's US elections, with Russian influence believed to have played a deciding role in Donald Trump's victory.

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.

New restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs): 14 countries now restrict tools used to circumvent censorship in some form and six countries introduced new restrictions, either legal bans or technical blocks on VPN websites or network traffic.

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. Most notable declines were documented in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey.

The report, entitled 'Freedom on the Net 2017' was written by US-based Freedom House, an independent watchdog dedicated to the "expansion of freedom and democracy around the world".

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