A global inventory of organised social media manipulation

Date Posted: May 27, 2019 Last Modified: May 27, 2019
Challenging truth and trust: A global inventory of organised social media manipulation Photo: ijclark, Flickr

This 2018 Oxford University study analyses the critical threat posed by the manipulation of public opinion to public life. The study finds a range of government agencies and political parties worldwide exploiting social media platforms to spread fake news and disinformation. The findings are based on a systematic analysis of local news articles reporting on cyber-troop activity in each country, an in-depth secondary literature review, and consultations with country-specific experts. 

  • The study found evidence of formally organised social media manipulation campaigns in 48 countries which is higher than 28 in the 2017 study. The findings point out at least one political party or government agency in each country using social media to manipulate public opinion domestically.
  • Most of this growth comes from countries where disinformation is being spread by political parties during elections, or countries where government agencies feel threatened by junk news and foreign interference.
  • In a fifth of the 48 countries, there is evidence of disinformation campaigns on platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram and WeChat.
  • While computational propaganda still requires social media account automation and online trolls, it is now profiting off paid advertisements and search engine optimisation on a widening array of online platforms.
  • The study found social media manipulation to be a big business since 2010 with political parties and governments having spent more than half a billion dollars implementing social media manipulation operations.