Social Media Now a Tool for Surveillance, Electoral Manipulation

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Nonprofit Freedom House said in its "Freedom on the Net 2019" report, "what was once a liberating technology has become a conduit for surveillance and electoral manipulation".

Adding to the problem of meddling by foreign regimes, a new menace to democracy has risen from within, as populist leaders and their armies of online supporters seek to distort politics at home. Disinformation was the most commonly used tactic. Just don't expect to feel very good about internet freedom when you're done.

Freedom House noted that the world's leading social media platforms are based in the U.S., which means that a large part of their exploitation was due to American neglect.

"Authoritarians and populists around the globe are exploiting both human nature and computer algorithms to conquer the ballot box, running roughshod over rules created to ensure free and fair elections".

Governments from across the democratic spectrum are indiscriminately monitoring citizens' online behavior to identify perceived threats-and in some cases to silence opposition.

Out of the same 65 countries, authorities in at least 40 have instituted some sort of advanced social media monitoring program, Freedom House found.

However, advances in artificial intelligence "have opened up new possibilities for automated mass surveillance", research director for technology and democracy Adrian Shahbaz said. These are topics that continue to dominate the news cycle, whether it's Fb's advert coverage that permits politicians to spread lies or Amazon's rising relationships with police departments that use its Ring good doorbells and related social media merchandise to surveil communities.

Over the past year, Freedom House assessed 65 countries for their report.

Researchers noted that officials in 47 countries, armed with such sophisticated web-snooping tools, had arrested web users between June 2018 and May 2019 for posting political, social or religious messages online.

"The upcoming of net freedom rests on our potential to fix social media", Shahbaz explained. Researchers recommend that the United States "must take the lead in rallying defenders of the open internet to fairly regulate technology that has become a necessity for our commerce, politics, and personal lives - there is no time to waste".

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Several provincial governments in China have also reportedly developed a "Police Cloud" system to accumulate data: people's social media accounts, their telecoms records, e-commerce activities, biometric data, and surveillance footage, according to the report.

Global online freedom, meanwhile, has dropped for the ninth consecutive year.

The worst declines were to be found in Sudan, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe. Improvements ended up measured in 16 countries, with Ethiopia recording the premier gains.

It also found online freedoms declined in the United States, as law enforcement monitors the Internet and conducts warrantless searches of electronic devices.

The report reported disinformation was rampant in the U.S., concentrating on the November 2018 midterm elections, and that "each domestic and overseas actors manipulated written content for political purposes, undermining the democratic approach and stoking divisions in American modern society".

According to the report, China is the worst abuser of internet freedom for the fourth consecutive year.

It highlights how authoritarian governments, leaders who aspire to authoritarianism, and other unscrupulous actors can exploit these unregulated platforms to spread fake news and distorted political information.

According to the watchdog, there were huge connectivity restrictions and disinformation in the 2018 general elections.

DHS subsequently announced plans in September to being requesting the social media user names of foreigners requesting permission to enter the U.S.

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