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Disinformation Campaigns Affected at Least 70 Countries

Digital disinformation campaigns are catching on worldwide. According to a new report by researchers at Oxford University, at least 70 countries have experienced political disinformation campaigns, with evidence of at least one political party or government entity in each instance engaging in social media manipulation, the New York Times reports.

The Oxford researchers used information from news organizations, civil society groups, and governments to create a global inventory of government disinformation practices. Facebook remains the top social network for disinformation, despite its increased efforts to combat such tactics—organized propaganda campaigns were found on Facebook in 56 countries, according to the report, The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation.

Over the last two years, there has been a 150 percent increase in countries using social media manipulation campaigns, the research found.

Philip N. Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute and one of the authors of the report, told the New York Times that online disinformation campaigns have expanded beyond the work of lone actors—there is a new level of professionalism, with disinformation campaigns utilizing formal organizations that use hiring plans, performance bonuses, and receptionists, along with “cyber troops,” networks of bots, and groups of “trolls” tasked with harassing political dissidents or journalists.

While most government-linked disinformation campaigns were focused domestically, at least seven countries tried to influence international views: China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, the researchers found.

According to the report, “China has become a major player in the global disinformation order. Until the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, most evidence of Chinese computational propaganda occurred on domestic platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and QQ. But China’s new-found interest in aggressively using Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube should raise concerns for democracies.”

For more on disinformation campaigns relating to elections, read “Attacks on the Record.”