The new report ‘The Global Disinformation Order: 2019 Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation’, co-authored by Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute (OII), and Samantha Bradshaw, Researcher at the OII, is the only regular inventory of its kind to look at the use of algorithms, automation and big data to shape public life.
The report explores the tools, capacities, strategies and resources employed by global ‘cyber troops’, typically government agencies and political parties, to influence public opinion in 70 countries.
Key findings include:
- Organized social media manipulation has more than doubled since 2017, with 70 countries using computational propaganda to manipulate public opinion.
- In 45 democracies, politicians and political parties have used computational propaganda tools by amassing fake followers or spreading manipulated media to garner voter support.
- In 26 authoritarian states, government entities have used computational propaganda as a tool of information control to suppress public opinion and press freedom, discredit criticism and oppositional voices, and drown out political dissent.
- Foreign influence operations, primarily over Facebook and Twitter, have been attributed to cyber troop activities in seven countries: China, India, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.
- China has now emerged as a major player in the global disinformation order, using social media platforms to target international audiences with disinformation.
- 25 countries are working with private companies or strategic communications firms offering a computational propaganda as a service.
- Facebook remains the platform of choice for social media manipulation, with evidence of formally organised campaigns taking place in 56 countries.
Professor Philip Howard, Director of the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said:
“The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life. Government agencies and political parties around the world are using social media to spread disinformation and other forms of manipulated media. Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy.”
Samantha Bradshaw, Lead author of the report and Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford said:
“The affordances of social networking technologies – algorithms, automation and big data – vastly changes the scale, scope, and precision of how information is transmitted in the digital age. Although social media was once heralded as a force for freedom and democracy, it has increasingly come under scrutiny for its role in amplifying disinformation, inciting violence, and lowering trust in the media and democratic institutions.”
The report explores the tools and techniques of computational propaganda, including the use of fake accounts – bots, humans, cyborgs and hacked accounts – to spread disinformation. The report finds:
- 87% of countries used human accounts
- 80% of countries used bot accounts
- 11% of countries used cyborg accounts
- 7% of countries used hacked or stolen accounts