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More Governments Including US Manipulate Social Media: Study

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A study by a human rights watchdog shows that Governments around the world, including in the United States, are dramatically increasing their efforts to manipulate information on social media, and suppress dissent online.

Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States, according to the latest edition of the annual country-by-country assessment of online freedom, released by Freedom House.

This is the seventh consecutive year of overall decline in Internet freedom, says the report "Freedom on the Net 2017."

A study in 65 countries found that 30 governments are deploying some form of manipulation to distort online information, damaging citizens' ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate. This is up from 23 governments the previous year.

Paid commentators, trolls, bots -- the name given to automated accounts, false news sites, and propaganda outlets were among the techniques used by leaders to inflate their popular support and essentially endorse themselves.

The report focuses on developments that occurred between June 2016 and May 2017.

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

The report highlights a Russian disinformation campaign to influence the American election. Fake news and aggressive trolling of journalists both during and after the presidential election contributed to a score decline in the United States' otherwise generally free environment.

For the third consecutive year, China is the world's worst abuser of Internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia.

Other key findings of the study: State censors targeted mobile connectivity; More governments restricted live video; Technical attacks against news outlets, opposition, and rights defenders increased; New restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs); Physical attacks against netizens and online journalists expanded dramatically.

In Jordan, a Christian cartoonist was murdered for mocking Islamist militants' vision of heaven, while in Myanmar, a journalist was murdered after posting on Facebook notes that alleged corruption, the report notes.

by RTT Staff Writer

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