Elections in 18 independent nations were influenced by the disinformation campaigns of the past year, the research suggests.
Independent watchdog Freedom House looked at how the online discourse was influenced by the government, the bot and paid for opinion formers.
In total, 30 governments actively participated in the use of social media to repress dissent, the report said.
Educate users to detect fake news and decisions of high-tech firms to police their networks could combat the manipulation, he said.Devastating impact
The annual report studied the status of internet freedom across 65 nations – which cover approximately 87% of the world’s net-using population.
For the seventh consecutive year, it said, net of liberty had fallen, as governments stepped up efforts to control what citizens said, did and shared online.
The different tactics to influence the expression online include:
automated bots that echoed the official emails
the armies of paid commentators who flooded into discussions with pro-government views
fake news sites that spread misleading information
trolling that soaked up the time-critical with personal attacks
Used in conjunction with more obvious technical controls, such as firewalls, content filters and the blocks of technical tools such as virtual private networks, manipulation of the media of social communication had become a key tool for repressive regimes, he said.
“This is not only the manipulation difficult to detect, it is more difficult to combat than the other types of censorship, such as blocking web sites, because it is dispersed, and due to the huge number of people and robots deployed to do so,” said Sanja Kelly, the head of the Freedom in the Network of the research project.
Ms Kelly said that China and Russia had begun a widespread net of controls, but the techniques that they had gone “global”.
In many other countries, including Turkey, the Philippines, Syria, and Ethiopia, now widely used, he said.
“The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques of democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating,” added Ms Kelly.
Official efforts to control discussion were most evident during the elections, said that the Freedom house report – which was carried out in 18 countries, the researchers examined.
Generally, the activity is included within a nation, but increasingly, governments are looking to social media to subvert the debate beyond their own borders.
Russia, in particular, the report said, has made significant efforts to influence the united states presidential election.
It is said that less than 25% of the users of the network lived in countries where the access to the network could be considered free, which means:
there are no major barriers to getting on-line
few restrictions on what can be shared or seen
the surveillance was limited
there is no significant impact to the people who exercise the freedom of expression
The report said net freedom could be helped by:
large-scale programmes that showed people how to spot fake news
put strict controls on the advertising policy
doing social media giants do more to remove the bots and adjust the algorithms to be more objective