Votes in 18 nations 'hacked' in last year

Elections in 18 separate nations were influenced by online disinformation campaigns last year, suggests research. In total, 30 governments were actively engaged in using social media to stifle dissent, said the report. Educating users to spot fake news and making tech firms police their networks could combat the manipulation, it said. The annual report studied the state of internet freedom across 65 nations - covering about 87% of the world's net-using population.

The different tactics used to influence online speech included:

  • automated bots that echoed official messages
  • armies of paid commentators that swamped discussions with pro-government views
  • false news sites that spread misleading information
  • trolling that soaked up critics' time with personal attacks


"Not only is this manipulation difficult to detect, it is more difficult to combat than other types of censorship said Sanja Kelly, head of the Freedom on the Net research project.

Ms Kelly said China and Russia had pioneered widespread net controls but the techniques had now gone "global".