Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election by spreading misinformation via social media have been well documented and widely discussed. While the investigation as to whether the Russian government coordinated its efforts with the Trump campaign is still ongoing, Freedom House’s 2017 Freedom of the Net report reveals that the United States wasn’t the only country whose election has been meddled with over the past year. According to Freedom House, online manipulation and disinformation played a key role in the elections in at least 18 countries between June 1, 2016 and May 31, 2017.
“Governments around the world have dramatically increased their efforts to manipulate information on social media over the past year”, the report finds, as the use of “fake news”, automated bots and paid commentators proliferated around the world. As social media is now the primary news source for many people, it has become increasingly fruitful to spread false information via Facebook, Twitter and other networks, where such information is (in many cases) unwittingly spread by users who see their own views validated by the fabricated stories.
As our chart illustrates, there are many ways in which governments or other political agents can manipulate opinions and spread false information on social media. The growing prevalence of such tactics contributed to the seventh consecutive decline in internet freedom according to Freedom House’s assessment.