Freedom House: Governments Employing Individuals To Monitor Social Media And Control Narrative

The Freedom On The Net 2019 report by Freedom House found that an increasing number of governments are employing individuals to monitor social media, shape opinions, and spread propaganda.

According to the report, advanced tools that are able to monitor and identify users on an immense scale are being used, as well as physical persons, in almost 60% of the world’s countries. 

The rise of populism and a global decrease in democracy has coincided with the growth of hyperpartisan mobs that include both authentic users and fraudulent accounts that coordinate political messaging and information dissemination across multiple platforms.

“Repressive regimes, elected incumbents with authoritarian ambitions, and unscrupulous partisan operatives have exploited the unregulated spaces of social media platforms, converting them into instruments for political distortion and societal control,” it found

The report also found that out of the 3.8 billion people who have internet access, 71% live in countries where individuals have been arrested or imprisoned for posting political, social, or religious content online. A staggering 65% live in countries where people have been killed over online activities since June 2018.

A further 56% live in countries where the government blocks political, social, or religious content online.

Another prevalent issue is the fact that both state and non-state actors have been using methods such as propagandistic news, fake news, paid commentators, and bots, to further their agenda. Leaders have employed state or party officials to share propaganda, make positive comments, and attack dissenters.

As a result, internet freedom in 2019 declined sharply due to it being “increasingly imperilled by the tools and tactics of digital authoritarianism” which it notes has spread rapidly around the globe.

In Albania, the government is believed to have utilised a number of the above-mentioned methods to control the discourse, spread fake news, and trump up support for the Socialist Party.

Mayor of Tirana Erion Veliaj was found to have over 100,000 fake followers on Twitter- some two-thirds of his “following”. 

In addition to this, prior to the 30 June election, Exit reported on hundreds of fake pages that popped up on Facebook, all commenting positively and supportively in favour of Veliaj and Prime Minister Edi Rama. They were also quick to comment on any negative articles in an attempt to fake support for controversial projects.

Exit also found that state employees in various ministries were being instructed to share propaganda every day, as well as to join ‘watch parties’ to make up viewing numbers, and to leave positive comments about the ruling party. Those that did not, were threatened with or did lose their jobs.

Over the last few years, rumours have persisted that there are teams of tax-payer funded employees at both the Municipality and the Office of the Prime Minister, whose sole job it is to patrol social media, sharing propaganda and harassing critics.