It's not just Russian Federation, 30 countries used the internet to manipulate elections

Freedom

The countries in question include Russian Federation, the United States, and China - with China being the worst abuser of internet freedoms for the third consecutive year.

The report comes after an alleged Russia-led campaign was exposed during 2016's U.S. presidential election campaign - shining a bright light on similar, seemingly state-backed, cases of cyber-meddling.

Almost half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net 2017 experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made gains, majority minor, Freedom House reported.

It noted what it called an "online decline in Internet freedom" for the seventh consecutive year.

"The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating", he added.

Sanja Kelly, director of the Freedom on the Net project, says such manipulation is often hard to detect, and "more difficult to combat than other types of censorship, such as website blocking".

"The fabrication of grassroots support for government policies on social media creates a closed loop in which the regime essentially endorses itself, leaving independent groups and ordinary citizens on the outside", Kelly said.

This was followed by Syria and then Ethiopia (where the government there shut down mobile networks for almost two months) as part of a state of emergency after large anti-government protests.

The report said less than one-quarter of Internet users in the 65 countries assessed have access to the web that can be considered "free", meaning there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights through unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.

Zero point equals the most internet free country, while the 100 point is the worst indicator.

Freedom House claims governments in 30 countries are using these tactics, up from 23 the previous year.

The report picks out the Philippines, where the current administration has hired an army of posters to amplify support for Duterte's bloody crackdown on drug dealers; and Turkey, where 6000 netizens have apparently been recruited to do the government's bidding online.

And in Turkey, around 6,000 are believed to be employed by the government to fight political opponents on social media sites.

Freedom House, a global organisation working for the expansion of freedom and democracy, conducted the survey titled "Freedom on the Net" assessing 65 countries including Bangladesh on their levels of internet and digital media freedom. "Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline".

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