Internet Freedom in 2017: Rise in Media Manipulation by Governments

A recent study by the Washington-based freedom rights group and watchdog organization, Freedom House, discovered that governments around the world have dramatically increased their efforts in manipulating information on social media over the past year.

The 48-page report goes into depth in the practices of the governments of over 65 different countries, out of which as many as 30 governments were found using some form of online information distortion to dissuade dissent.

It noted that 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 tactics used include “bots”, “trolls”, propaganda producers, fake news, paid commentators, harassment of journalists, and more.

The report said that in at least 18 countries, including the United States, online manipulation and disinformation played an important role in the elections the past year.

Furthermore, it said that a record number of governments have restricted mobile internet service for political or security reasons, often in areas populated by ethnic or religious minorities.

The report rated countries from 1 to 100 on the basis of how free the internet is from government manipulation and disinformation.

China, Syria, and Ethiopia were the world’s worst abusers, with scores of 87, 86, and 86, respectively, and Iran following not far behind at 85. On the side of the coin, Estonia and Iceland were the freest countries with scores of 6 each.

This reported a serious threat to democracy all over the world, seeing as unlike direct methods of censorship, internet manipulation is not easily detectable by the common public.

Kshitija Agrawal