Industrialized Disinformation: 2020 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation

13 January 2021

The manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy. Over the past four years, we have monitored the global organization of social media manipulation by governments and political parties, and the various private companies and other organizations they work with to spread disinformation.

Our 2020 report highlights the recent trends of computational propaganda across 81 countries and the evolving tools, capacities, strategies, and resources used to manipulate public opinion around the globe. We identify three key trends in this year’s inventory of disinformation activity:

  1. Cyber troop activity continues to increase around the world. This year, we found evidence of 81 countries using social media to spread computational propaganda and disinformation about politics. This has increased from last years’ report, in which we identified 70 countries with cyber troop activity.
  2. Over the last year, social media firms have taken important steps to combat the misuse of their platforms by cyber troops. Public announcements by Facebook and Twitter between January 2019 and December 2020 reveal that more than 317,000 accounts and pages have been removed by the platforms. Nonetheless, almost US $10 million has still been spent on political advertisements by cyber troops operating around the world.
  3. Private firms increasingly provide manipulation campaigns. Over the last year, we found forty- eight instances of private companies deploying computational propaganda on behalf of a political actor. Since 2018 there have been more than 65 firms offering computational propaganda as a service. In total, we have found almost US $60 million was spent on hiring these firms since 2009.

Read the Belarus case study here.

Read the Costa Rica case study here.

Read the Country case studies here.

Access the public Zotero database here.

Samantha Bradshaw, Hannah Bailey & Philip N. Howard. “Industrialized Disinformation: 2020 Global Inventory of Organized Social Media Manipulation.” (2021) Oxford, UK: Programme on Democracy & Technology. 26 pp.

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