Review – Freedom of The Internet Report 2017

A new “Freedom of The Net 2017” report released by internet and human rights watchdog Freedom House paints a very dark portrait of the current worldwide internet landscape. Released to the public at the start of this week and officially entitled “Manipulating Social Media To Undermine Democracy,” the 2017 study took a look at new laws, hacking events, social media activity and election results in 65 countries across the world in 2016.

Read Full Study Here:

According to their results, researchers claim that 18 countries had their elections interfered with or hacked by electronic means last year, most note-ably the United States. Additionally, taking into consideration things like Government surveillance, the banishment of VPN’s, Tor and Proxy services by several countries all across the world over recent years, the organization now claims that only 23% of the worldwide internet is still considered “free” or “open.

Internet Freedom Declines Globally: Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, finds a new report from Freedom House.

Bots & State-Sponsored Manipulation of Social Media

According to the report “Venezuela, the Philippines, and Turkey were among 30 countries where governments were found to employ armies of “opinion shapers” to spread government views, drive particular agendas, and counter government critics on social media.” Adding that “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 to ensure high visibility and seamless integration with trusted content.

As for why this is being done, Freedom House explains how “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. And by bolstering the false perception that most citizens stand with them, authorities are able to justify crackdowns on the political opposition and advance antidemocratic changes to laws and institutions without a proper debate.

According to their data, “Pro-government commentators were found in 30 of the 65 countries, up from 23 in the 2016 edition and a new high.” Going on to explain that “In these countries, there are credible reports that the government employs staff or pays contractors to manipulate online discussions without making the sponsored nature of the content explicit.” Moreover, “In the most repressive countries, members of the government bureaucracy or security forces are directly employed to manipulate political conversations.

Internet Freedom Declines Globally: Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, finds a new report from Freedom House.

In their estimation, Sudan, Vietnam, Turkey, the Philippines, China and Russia were among the worlds foremost violators of this practice. Backing up their claims,  researches only gathered data based on leaked documents, investigative reporting and academic studies, such as the one directly linked below.

Read More – Leaked Documents Show China Fabricates Nearly 500 Million Social Media Posts per Year:

The study also points out that because of this subversive activity, “it can be hard to distinguish propaganda from actual grassroots nationalism, even for seasoned observers.” Moreover, the problem is made worse when Governments or “politicians encourage or even incentivize followers to report “unpatriotic content,” harass “enemies of the state,” or flood social media with comments hailing government policies—often working hand-in-hand with paid commentators and propagandists.Freedom House says that this very behavior has already been documented in at least 8 countries throughout the course of 2017.

Read More – It Wasn’t Just Trump/Russians, Hillary Clinton’s SuperPAC Also Hired an Army of Internet Trolls Ahead of Sanders & Trump Debates:

Researchers go on to add that “In addition to human commentators, both state and nonstate actors are increasingly creating automated accounts on social media to manipulate online discussions. In at least 20 countries, characteristic patterns of online activity suggested the coordinated use of such “bots” to influence political discourse.” Explaining that “Thousands of fake names and profiles can be deployed with the click of a mouse, algorithmically programmed to focus on certain critical voices or keywords” and “According to estimates by cloud services provider Imperva Incapsula, bots made up 51.2 percent of all web traffic in 2016.

Freedom House is also not alone in their reporting on these matters, the use of social media bots to hack social media and influence public opinion is also something that I have written about extensively for Legacy Medi4 in the past. The articles below cover many of the subjects glossed over in Freedom House’s report, but in much greater detail to provide more context.

How Bots Build Political Empires:

Study – 15% of Twitters Overall Postings Come From Bots, 48 Million Twitter Accounts are Fake:

Facebook estimates 10% of Overall Traffic, 270 Million Accounts Worldwide, are Fake:

Fake News

As if all the information listed above was not enough to undermine our trust in Democracy, as the Freedom House report also outlines, though its origins can be traced back to the start of 2015, the use of Fake News as a means spread political disinformation and propaganda online exploded around the world in 2017. As the report emphasizes, “The “democratization” of content production and the centralization of online distribution channels like Twitter and Facebook has shaken up the media industry, and one unintended consequence has been the proliferation of fake news—intentionally false information that has been engineered to resemble legitimate news and garner maximum attention.

While reporters acknowledge it is often times hard or impossible to distinguish between a civilian journalist trying their best to make an impact or a coordinated act by a Government agency to spread misinformation online, there is no disputing the fact that state sponsored online content only continues to increase by the year. Taking this into consideration, according to their research, “Freedom House documented prominent examples of fake news around elections or referendums in at least 16 of the 65 countries assessed” and unsurprisingly enough, notes that no country has done more to spread fake news online than Russia has.

The report then goes on to talk about possible solutions to this problem and how “Several democratic countries are debating the appropriate response to the fake news phenomenon and, more broadly, the responsibility of intermediaries such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter to remove fraudulent or illegal content.” However, the answers to this problem are not easy and ironically enough, in a bid to crack down on the spread of fake news and political disinformation online, Freedom House notes how “governments in at least 14 countries actually restricted internet freedom in a bid to address various forms of content manipulation.

Read More – Who Is More To Blame for The Spread of Fake News, Facebook or American Corporate Greed?:

Internet Restrictions

The study contends that according to their algorithms and analysis, at least when it comes to internet freedoms and user rights, “Of the 65 countries assessed, 32 have been on an overall decline since June 2016, while just 13 made gains, most of them minor. ” Noting that, “The biggest declines took place in Ukraine, Egypt, and Turkey,” and “For the third consecutive year, China was the world’s worst abuser of internet freedom, followed by Syria and Ethiopia.

Internet Freedom Declines Globally: Disinformation tactics contributed to a seventh consecutive year of overall decline in internet freedom, finds a new report from Freedom House.

Additionally,  researchers estimate that “Less than one-quarter” of all internet users worldwide currently “reside in countries where the internet is designated Free, meaning there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.” One of the biggest industries to take a hit by recent government crackdowns are VPN service providers, which allow internet users to by pass blockades, restrictions and/or firewalls placed upon the internet inside their countries.

As Freedom House also points out, “Although VPNs are used for diverse functions they are often employed in authoritarian countries as a means of bypassing internet censorship and accessing websites that are otherwise blocked. This has made VPNs a target for government censors, with 14 countries now restricting the connections in some form and with six countries introducing new restrictions over the past year. The Chinese government, for example, issued regulations that required registration of “approved VPNs,” which are presumably more compliant with government requests, and has moved to block some of the unregistered services.

Russia Becomes First Country in History To Ban Tor, VPN’s & Proxies:

China Passes Draconian Laws To Control Social Media & Online Behavior:

China Bans VPN’s To Strengthen ‘The Great Firewall’:

Additionally, one of the biggest internet freedoms/rights to come under attack this year is encryption, which allows users to secure their technological devices and/or online accounts. Not only has end-to-end encryption been made illegal on any software or device produced inside the United States, but other countries including Great Britain, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and many others have also been in the news this year for passing new measures cracking down on encryption rights.

Read More – How The FBI’s War on Encryption Isn’t Just Costing You Your Rights, It’s Harming The Economy:

To this effect, Freedom House reports how “Rather than taking measures to protect businesses, citizens, and vulnerable groups from these cyber security threats, many governments are moving in the opposite direction.” Explaining that in their estimation, “At least six countries—China, Hungary, Russia, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam—recently passed or implemented laws that may require companies or individuals to break encryption, offering officials so-called backdoor access to confidential communications.

With that said, the news is not all bad and in response to harsh crackdowns on encryption protocols around the world in 2017, many legislative bodies and human rights groups came out strongly against these measures. Earlier this year I produced a video discussing the encryption debate, as well as a number of articles lobbying on behalf of strong encryption laws. You can learn more about this through the information provided below.

Learn More – Who Needs Encryption Rights?:

Lastly, without dragging this article on any more than I already have, among other things, the Freedom House report also goes on to touch on other topics including new restrictions on mobile networks, how DDoS attacks potentially influenced national elections, how governments worked to shutdown internet connectivity before important national events or protests, as well as how individual government agencies all around the world continue to grant themselves the ability to blindly and illegally hack into the lives of civilians on a daily basis.

Coincidentally enough, these are all subjects I have personally covered for my website over the course of the last 13 months as well. If you are interested in learning more about any or all of these subjects, I recommend reading the full Freedom House report and for more context and information, any of the links provided to you throughout this article.

China Requires Muslims To Install Spyware On Their Devices or Face Prison Time:

How A DDoS Attack Ahead of The Brexit Referendum May Have Changed History:

Amnesty International & Proton Mail Team Up To Fight Internet Censorship:

3 Reasons Why The Wikileaks CIA Release Should Matter Much More To You:

Categories: Tech Stuff

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