Online disinformation and manipulation targeted elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, according to a new study.
In its “Freedom on the Net 2017” report, Freedom House warns that online efforts to manipulate elections are “damaging citizens’ ability to choose their leaders” based on factual news.
The increasing use of bots and trolls, it says, also allows authoritarian governments to expand their influence and is “potentially devastating” for democracy.
Freedom House researchers say the 18 targeted countries — which are not all listed in the report — are the United States, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kenya, Rwanda, Thailand, The Gambia, Turkey, South Korea, and Zambia.
The report singles out Russian disinformation campaigns during elections in the United States but also in Europe.
In most cases, however, the report says governments use online disinformation and manipulation domestically in a bid to consolidate their hold on power.
“Over the last few years, the practice has become significantly more widespread and technically sophisticated, with bots, propaganda producers, and fake news outlets exploiting social media and search algorithms,” it says.
To counter online disinformation, Freedom House calls for education programmes aimed at teaching citizens how to detect fake news, stricter regulations on political advertising, and greater efforts by tech companies to disable bots and fake accounts.