PETALING JAYA: Malaysia is among 70 countries where disinformation and media manipulation is being used to mislead users, and state-sponsored trolls are used to attack political opponents or activists, a global study has found.
The Oxford Internet Institute said that an increasing number of countries are using organised social media manipulation to influence public opinion and this has worrying implications for democracy.
Its "Global Disinformation Order" report found evidence of social media manipulation in a whopping 70 countries now, compared to only 28 countries just two years ago.
In 26 countries, computational propaganda was used as a tool of information control to suppress fundamental human rights, discredit political opponents, and drown out dissenting opinions.
By examining Malaysia's cybertrooper activity, the Oxford Internet Institute said it found evidence of a "medium-capacity" cybertrooper team with formal training and staff estimates of 50 to 2,000 people.
Malaysia's cybertrooper activity is mainly from fake bot accounts – highly automated accounts designed to mimic human behaviour online, it said in its report.
These include accounts on Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Twitter.
These accounts are used to spread pro-government or pro-party propaganda, attack the opposition in smear campaigns, and suppress participation through personal attacks of harassment.
The study found that this strategy has been employed by government agencies, politicians and political parties, private contractors, civil society organisations, citizens and influencers.
In the report, Oxford Internet Institute researcher Samantha Bradshaw said,"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 Star has reached out to Bradshaw for more information.
DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang said Malaysia must not take these findings lightly.
"Malaysians must give serious attention to the latest Oxford Internet Institute report as it gives a timely warning of the national risks if fake news and hate speech to incite inter-racial and inter-religious polarisation in Malaysia are allowed untrammelled licence," he said in a statement Saturday (Sept 28).