A new study has found evidence of organized social media manipulation campaigns in 70 countries across the world. In a report titled ‘The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation’, two Oxford University researchers, Philip Howard and Samantha Bradsaw, state that that organised social media manipulation has more than doubled since 2017.
This growth is partially attributed to “new entrants who are experimenting with the tools and techniques of computational propaganda during elections or as a new tool of information control.”
Computational propaganda is a term used to describe the use of an array of tools like automation, algorithms, big data and human curation to purposefully distribute misleading information over social media platforms.
The study found that in authoritarian regimes “computational propaganda has become a tool of information control that is strategically used in combination with surveillance, censorship, and threats of violence.” The campaigns are used to suppress human rights, discredit political opposition and to drown out political dissent.
In Africa, this was true of the governments of Angola, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Other forms of computational propaganda were detected in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
While more people are signed up to more social media platforms than ever before, the study found that Facebook remains the main platform used for cyber. However there is evidence that of growing computational propaganda on Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp.
Other findings of the report include:
In 45 democracies, politicians and political parties have used computational propaganda tools by amassing fake followers or spreading manipulated media to garner voter support.
China has now emerged as a major player in the global disinformation order, using social media platforms to target international audiences with disinformation.
25 countries are working with private companies or strategic communications firms offering a computational propaganda as a service.
In a press statement announcing the release of the report, Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said: “The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life. Government agencies and political parties around the world are using social media to spread disinformation and other forms of manipulated media. Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy.”
Samantha Bradshaw, Lead author of the report and Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said: “Although social media was once heralded as a force for freedom and democracy, it has increasingly come under scrutiny for its role in amplifying disinformation, inciting violence, and lowering trust in the media and democratic institutions.”