A new international report has revealed more than a dozen nations fell prey to online manipulation and disinformation tactics during election cycles in the last year, risking internet freedom across the globe. The annual Freedom House “Freedom of the Net” report released on Tuesday found that at least 16 countries sustained attacks similar to Russian online meddling efforts reported during the U.S. 2016 presidential election. Overall, the study of 65 nations found internet freedoms have widely declined since last year’s report. Those 16 nations – Angola, Armenia, Colombia, Ecuador, France, The Gambia, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya, Rwanda, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Zambia – had election campaigns that were touched by fake news reports and had websites and social media accounts vandalized, according to the findings. In some instances, political bots and hijacked accounts were also reported.
“The effects of these rapidly spreading techniques on democracy and civic activism are potentially devastating,” the report noted.
The reach of fabricated news stories has gained particular attention in the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election. Executives from sites like Google, Facebook and Twitter have since acknowledged that Kremlin-backed groups manipulated online content to seemingly inflame political tensions. The tech and social networking companies were among the funders for Freedom House’s report.