Report: Russia-like election meddling discovered in 16 countries
A new international report has revealed more than a dozen nations fell prey to online manipulation and disinformation tactics during election cycles in the last year, risking internet freedom across the globe.
The annual Freedom House "Freedom of the Net" report released on Tuesday found that at least 16 countries sustained attacks similar to Russian online meddling efforts reported during the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Overall, the study of 65 nations found internet freedoms have widely declined since last year's report.
Those 16 nations – Angola, Armenia, Colombia, Ecuador, France, The Gambia, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Rwanda, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Zambia – had election campaigns that were touched by fake news reports and had websites and social media accounts vandalized, according to the findings. In some instances, political bots and hijacked accounts were also reported.
See some of the ads that impacted the U.S. election:
"The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating," the report noted.
The reach of fabricated news stories has gained particular attention in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election. Executives from sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter have since acknowledged that Kremlin-backed groups manipulated online content to seemingly inflame political tensions. The tech and social networking companies were among the funders for Freedom House's report.
As in the U.S. and other Western nations, external information campaigns influenced a number of elections, but the study also found that political parties and governments in other countries directed campaigns to maintain or increase power.
Freedom House suggested improving media literacy, using transparent online political advertising and improving technology algorithms to counter fake accounts could help to combat the threat of online tampering. Such changes won't come overnight, it said.
"Successfully countering content manipulation and restoring trust in social media — without undermining internet and media freedom — will take time, resources, and creativity," the report said.
Among its findings, the study also measured each country's general level of internet and digital media freedom based on an assessment of obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights. Freedom House's top 10 countries for internet and digital freedom are listed below, and a full ranking can be found here.
|Country||Overall Freedom Rank||Overall Freedom Score|
|United States||5 (tie)||21|
|United Kingdom||8 (tie)||24|
|South Africa||10 (tie)||25|
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