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

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

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.

In its annual assessment of online freedom called Freedom On The Net 2017, released on November 14, the human rights group said online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an "important role" in elections in at least 18 countries in the past year, including Russia's influencing of the electoral process in the United States.

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

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

Internet freedom has declined for a seventh consecutive year, and there's also been a rise in disruption in mobile internet service and technical attacks against human rights organisations.

Previous 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.

Other countries also increased their efforts to censor and manipulate information, the report said.

It found governments including Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were using "paid pro-government commentators" to shape opinions online, often to give the impression of grassroots support for government policies.

Meanwhile, as Russian Federation sought to spread disinformation to influence the elections in the USA and Europe, the Kremlin also tightened its internal controls, the report said.

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

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".

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

"While the online environment in the United States remained vibrant and diverse, the prevalence of disinformation and hyperpartisan content had a significant impact", the report said.

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