A “grave threat to democracy”. That’s how a recent report from NGO Freedom House characterises the online activities of an increasing number of states.
According to the study, in 2017, 30 goverments used the internet to distort information online, using a variety of tools, including trolls, bots, automated accounts, paid commentators and fake news.
Freedom House says the number of regimes weaponising the internet is on the rise – there were 23 countries on the list last year – and a growing number of leaders are seeking to emulate these repressive practices.
Individuals see their freedoms restricted online, too, including in many European countries.
For the third year in a row, China heads the list of culprits, because of its harsh censorship rules and denial of anonymity.
Russia stands accused of using technology to interfere in democratic elections in the US and Europe, and of leading aggressive campaigns to destabilise neighbouring democracies.
At home, things aren’t much better. Blogs with more than 3,000 visits per day must register with the state, or face being blocked by search engines.
In Turkey, 6,000 people are employed to counter criticism of the government on social media.
An “army of keyboards” are paid 8.5 euros per day in the Philippines to provide online support for Duterte’s bloody war on drugs.