Culture

Your government is probably manipulating you on social media

By Oliver Smith 14 November 2017
Image: Getty/Boogich.
Summary

2017’s Freedom on the Net report found a huge rise in disinformation.

Fake news and alternative facts are being employed by more governments than ever before.

Last year independent online watchdog Freedom House pointed to the huge rise in countries censoring messaging apps like WhatsApp in its Freedom on the Net report.

This year the group said 30 of the 65 countries it surveyed used paid commentators, trolls, bots, fake news sites and propaganda outlets to inflate popular support for their governments and manipulate elections – up from just 23 last year.

The countries in question include Russia, the US, and China – with China being the worst abuser of internet freedoms for the third consecutive year.

Read more: Your internet freedom fell to a new low in 2016, especially on WhatsApp

(Mis)information wars

“The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russia but has now gone global,” said Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz.

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

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.

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

With a tide of fake news and our governments among the worst offenders, that old saying has never been truer.

You just can’t believe what you read anymore.