World

30 governments interfering with Internet freedom

WASHINGTON: More governments are following the lead of Russia and China by manipulating social media and suppressing dissent online in a grave threat to democracy, a human rights watchdog said yesterday.

A study of Internet freedom in 65 countries found that 30 governments are deploying some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 in the previous year.

These efforts included paid commentators, trolls, "bots" - the name given to automated accounts - false news sites and propaganda outlets, according to this year's Freedom On The Net report by human rights group Freedom House.

The report said online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the US.

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

"The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating." - AFP

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