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Freedom House: Social Media Increasingly Conduit for Surveillance and Voter Manipulation

The U.S.-based democracy and freedom watchdog group said in its latest report that many governments are using social media to spy on citizens and manipulate elections. “Our two main themes this year were looking at how governments are using social media to undermine their own elections and also monitor their citizens,” said Allie Funk, co-author of the report titled Freedom on the Net 2019. “We found that domestic actors – whether that be government or politicians that are seeking to be elected – actually used the internet to undermine a fair and free election in their country.” The report says the most often-used tool was the spread of disinformation mostly by far-right politicians. “I don’t know if everybody realized how quickly governments were going to use this against us," Funk said. But government attempts to curb internet freedoms can backfire. This summer in Russia, after the Kremlin stymied opposition political candidates anti-government protesters used social media to organize. “The protesters there were acutely aware that the government was probably watching or surveilling, so they started using code words for different protest movements, and they started to organize on these platforms as well to get administrative aid or to get food or water to other protesters,” Funk said. The report finds that internet freedoms have been declining every year since Freedom House began compiling the report in 2009.

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