Governments around the world are increasingly resorting to social media manipulation.
It also revealed that, other than the United States, covert tactics were used in at least 17 other countries to damage citizens "ability to choose their leaders based on factual news and authentic debate". "Democracies should ensure that the source of political advertising online is at least as transparent online as it is offline", she added.
"The use of paid commentators and political bots to spread government propaganda was pioneered by China and Russian Federation but has now gone global", said Freedom House president Michael Abramowitz, adding that the rapid spread of such techniques is "potentially devastating" for democracy.
The issue of "fake news" produced by online trolls and disseminated by automated bot accounts gained attention during last year's USA elections, with Russian influence believed to have played a deciding role in Donald Trump's victory.
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It said that governments in a total of 30 countries deployed some form of manipulation to distort online information, up from 23 the previous year.
"Paid commentators, trolls, bots, false news sites, and propaganda outlets were among the techniques used by leaders to inflate their popular support and essentially endorse themselves", Freedom House said in its report, which was released on November 14. Most countries saw a decline in their internet freedom score, including the United States and UK, which now sit in sixth and ninth place. The assessment was carried out in 65 countries, which make up 87 percent of the world's internet usage - showing questionable election results go far beyond fake news in the US. The Ethiopian government totally shut down mobile networks for two months in a state of emergency during wide-scale anti-government protests.
Three countries - Venezuela, the Philippines and Turkey - were found to use armies of so-called "opinion shapers" to circulate government propaganda and counter critical views online. Let's hope that number increases before the internet becomes a real-life version if 1984.
However, high prices for services, inadequate infrastructure, and slow internet speeds remain obstacles, particularly for those in rural areas or with low incomes.
Since June 2016, 32 of the 65 countries evaluated in the report saw their situation deteriorate; the most notable setbacks were registered in Ukraine, Egypt and Turkey.