Globalisation and the Politicisation of the Internet

One of the preconditions for globalisation is the existence of comparative cost advantages and economies of scale. Developed countries are able to improve profitability by transferring or outsourcing predetermined functions to other regions where it can capitalize on prevailing cost advantages. Technology has become a catalyst of globalisation through the development and evolution of the Internet.

With the Internet, companies in developed economies like the United States, Canada, France and Germany can contract services in low cost regions in Asia particularly China, the Philippines, India and Vietnam. Data transfer is easy, fast and more convenient. Cloud technology and encryption programs offer more security and protection for confidential information.

However the Internet is not immune to abuse from politics.

According to a report by Freedom House, governments in at least 30 countries are using the Internet to distribute mass-produced manipulated content to further their political agenda.

Translation: Governments worldwide are using the Internet to mass produce and mass distribute fake news.

Freedom House is a U.S. based, government funded Non- Government Organization (NGO) that conducts research with special emphasis on human rights, democracy and political freedom.

The report suggests that these efforts to manipulate political content may have influenced elections in 18 countries.

It has been alleged that Russia intervened with the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections and that machinations were in effect sometime between June 2015 and May 2017 when advertisements meant to sow political discord showed up in the Facebook pages of many Americans.

The ads were paid for by an organization called the “Internet Research Agency” which has been traced to Russia.

Internet freedom or the right to express oneself on the Internet has since then declined considerably in the United States. The report shows that countries with low Internet freedom scores are more active in the distribution of manipulated political content.

The countries with the lowest Internet freedom scores are China, Turkey, Sudan, Venezuela and the Philippines.

Venezuela’s government agencies are notorious for using manipulated footage to promote its re-election campaign. The Sudanese government uses a virtual team to distribute its messages via WhatsApp.

Meanwhile the Philippine government has allegedly hired call centres and “government-accredited” bloggers to push propaganda in support of President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs and frequent calls for Martial Law or the installation of a revolutionary government.

The distribution of content is not limited to social media websites but is also delivered through text messages and sponsored content.

As fake news continues to propagate on the Internet, calls for more regulation have also increased. However, it has likewise created a dichotomy: censorship of content will also discriminate versus freedom of expression.

Sanja Kelly who handles the production of the Freedom of the Net report believes the solution to content manipulation does not lie in censorship but with education:

“When trying to combat online manipulation from abroad, it is important for countries not to overreach. The solution to manipulation and disinformation lies not in censoring websites but in teaching citizens how to detect fake news and commentary.”