Organised efforts to manipulate social media and public opinion are being carried out in at least 70 countries by government agencies and political parties, researchers said Thursday.
A report by the Oxford Internet Institute found manipulation efforts have doubled over the past two years and are being used by both democratic and authoritarian governments. The report identified the countries as China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
The study found Facebook remains “the platform of choice” for social media manipulation, with evidence seen in 56 nations. The researchers said “sophisticated state actors” from at least seven countries are working outside their borders on global foreign influence operations, using Facebook and Twitter.
“The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life,” said Philip Howard, director of the British-based institute.
“Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy.” The report highlights broad growth in social media manipulation since the 2016 US election and Brexit referendum where these techniques were first noted.
The researchers found evidence of organised social media manipulation campaigns in 70 countries in 2019, up from 48 in 2018 and 28 in 2017. “In each country, there is at least one political party or government agency using social media to shape public attitudes domestically," the report said.