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


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

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

Governments in 30 countries manipulated information on social media in an effort to advance their agendas and suppress dissent, a USA -based rights group said in its annual report on Internet freedom. "Not only is this manipulation hard to detect, it is more hard to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it's dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it".

"Not only is this manipulation hard to detect, it is more hard to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking, because it's dispersed and because of the sheer number of people and bots deployed to do it", said Sanja Kelly, head of the Freedom on the Net research project.

Since June 2016, 32 of the 65 countries assessed saw internet freedoms deteriorate, the researchers found. But after the surge of distorted information online, "Governments in at least 14 countries actually restricted internet freedom in a bid to address content manipulation".

They include paid commentators, trolls, bots and fake news, which are used to harass journalists, flood social media with fabricated opinions and erode trust in other media.

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.

"Georgians continue to freely use social media tools to document and respond to significant political and social events".

The report comes after an alleged Russia-led campaign was exposed during 2016's USA presidential election campaign - shining a bright light on similar, seemingly state-backed, cases of cyber-meddling.

It said the countries with the fewest government Internet restrictions were, in order, Estonia, Iceland, Canada, Germany, Australia and the United States. For instance, Ukraine has stopped citizens from accessing Russia-based services.

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

"The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary", Kelly warned.

The countries in question include Russian Federation, the USA, and China - with China being the worst abuser of internet freedoms for the third consecutive year. The Ethiopian government totally shut down mobile networks for two months in a state of emergency during wide-scale anti-government protests.

There are three main criteria of evaluation: obstacles to access; limits on content and violations of user rights. Let's hope that number increases before the internet becomes a real-life version if 1984.

Zero point equals the most internet free country, while the 100 point is the worst indicator.