Researchers at the University of Oxford have noted an upsurge during the past three years in the number of countries that co-opted social media for running online disinformation campaigns.
According to a detailed study by the Internet Institute of the University of Oxford, Pakistan is one of the seventy countries, where computational propaganda is being used as a tool of information control and social media manipulation. In some of these countries the campaigns were leveraged to suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents, and drown out dissenting opinions.
In Pakistan at least one government entity while more than three political parties were found to be involved in social media manipulation.
A screenshot from the report where the color codes show prevalence of social media manipulation in different countries including Pakistan
Pakistan, as per the study, was also one of the seven countries where a handful of sophisticated state actors used computational propaganda for foreign influence operations.
The researchers compiled information from news organizations, civil society groups and governments to create one of the most comprehensive inventories of disinformation practices by governments around the world.
The study said that the forces behind the disinformation campaigns used ‘Cyber troops’ for social media manipulation. Cyber troops’, the researcher said, are government or political party actors tasked with manipulating public opinion online.
They found that the number of countries with political disinformation campaigns more than doubled to 70 in the last two years, with evidence of at least one political party or government entity in each of those countries engaging in social media manipulation.
The cyber troops in Pakistan were found to be running pro-government campaigns while also engaging in launching assaults on the opposition parties and individuals.
Screenshot shows type of messaging in manipulative campaigns
The researchers said while a number of social media platforms were used for these campaigns, Facebook remained the platform of choice for social media manipulation.
Pakistan has witnessed a number of hateful online campaigns against prominent politicians, journalists and members of the country’s civil society. Investigations revealed these campaigns to be engineered, organized and run by fake bots to harass and browbeat the journalists and others for their views.
These malicious campaigns not only tarnished the reputation of the targeted individuals but also exposed them to vigilante violence by leveling serious allegations.