WASHINGTON: A human rights watchdog on Tuesday stated that governments around the world have misused social media to manipulate elections and monitor their citizens.
An annual report on online freedom by the nonprofit group Freedom House found evidence of an advanced social media surveillance programs in which at least 40 of 65 countries have been analyzed.
According to the group, disinformation is the most commonly used tactic to undermine elections.
The watchdog’s 2019 ‘Freedom on the Net’ report stated, “Populists and far-right leaders have grown adept not only at creating viral disinformation but also at harnessing networks that disseminate it.”
The researchers said that in 47 out of the 65 countries, individuals were arrested for political, social, or religious speech online and people were subjected to physical violence for their online activities in at least 31 countries.
China remained the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year as the government stepped up information controls amid protests in Hong Kong and ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre
The survey found that online freedom declined in 33 of the 65 countries assessed, including the United States.
It added, “Officials increasingly monitored social media platforms and conducted warrantless searches of travelers’ electronic devices to glean information about peaceful protests and critical reporting.”
The biggest declines were in Sudan and Kazakhstan, followed by Brazil, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe. Improvements were measured in 16 countries, with Ethiopia recording the largest gains.
Authorities in some countries have simply cut off internet access as part of their manipulation efforts, while others employed propaganda armies to distort information on social platforms.
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