The Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in internet rights around the world. It originally appears each week on Global Voices Advocacy. Afef Abrougui, Ellery Roberts Biddle, Rohith Jyothish, Weiping Li, Leila Nachawati, Karolle Rabarison, Juke Carolina Rumuat, and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.
With elections fast approaching, Malaysia’s Parliament approved the “Anti-Fake News Law” on April 3, despite public concern that it will undermine media freedom.
On April 6, Prime Minister Najib Razak dissolved the Parliament, in another move seen as part of a strategy for securing his own re-election.
The law covers text, graphic and multimedia content, and define “fake news” as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false.”
Violators who are found guilty of distributing such content would be subject to fines of up to $123,000 and a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The law also would place additional obligations on internet platforms, requiring them to take down false information in accordance with content removal orders, or face steep fines.
Meanwhile in Singapore, a parliamentary committee is considering legislation that would criminalize the spread of “deliberate online falsehoods” on the internet and social media.
The committee has conducted eight days of public hearings on the matter, which included testimony from academic and cybersecurity experts from a wide range of countries, local civil society advocates, and staff of major Silicon Valley companies.
Facebook and WhatsApp are blocked in Chad
Facebook and WhatsApp have been inaccessible for four days in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena. Journal du Cameroun reported that authorities have given no official reason for the block, but citizens suspect that it was triggered by clashes between young people in two neighboring cities, one of which generally supports the ruling party, while the other opposes it. Shortly before the block, a series of angry videos aimed at the ruling party were posted on Facebook.
Will Iran block Telegram?
In a recent radio interview, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of Iran’s Parliament National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said top officials had agreed on plans to block Telegram, a popular mobile messaging app. Founded in Russia, but now registered in the U.S. and the U.K., Telegram does not have offices or servers in Iran.
Boroujerdi said the decision was based on national security concerns, and that a local version of the app would be launched and promoted in its place. However, President Hassan Rouhani has publicly opposed the move, arguing in an interview with Tasnim News that “the goal of creating and enhancing Iranian software and messaging apps should not be blocking access [to other apps], but [the goal] should be the elimination of monopolies.”
With more than 40 million users in Iran—out of a total internet user population of 50 million—Telegram is far and away the most commonly used messaging app in the country. The app was blocked in Iran during protests that began in the final days of 2017 and lasted until mid-January 2018. On the heels of this controversy, Russia’s telecom regulator has asked a court to block Telegram in Russia, on the grounds that the company refused to hand its encryption keys to state authorities.
Thai magazine may face criminal charges over pollution protest image
The governor of Chiang Mai, a city in northern Thailand, filed a criminal complaint against English-language magazine Citylife Chiang Mai over an image posted on the magazine’s Facebook page. Created by a local teenager, the image depicts a famous local statue of three ancient Thai kings with gas masks superimposed on their faces. It was intended to support the “Right to Breathe” protest in Chiang Mai, where pollution levels have risen dramatically in recent years. The governor claims the magazine is in violation of Thailand’s Computer Crime Act.
Uganda wants to tax social media users
Ugandan President Yoweri Musveni is promoting a controversial plan to charge social media users a daily fee for their use of platforms such as WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, and Twitter. The proposed tax scheme makes ample reference to the fact that these applications provide “over-the-top” communication services that allow users to make calls over the internet, rather than paying local telecommunication service fees to make calls. Multiple members of parliament, companies including MTN, Uganda’s largest telecom company, and civil society groups oppose the legislation.
In Zimbabwe, Big Brother is about to get bigger
Senior officials in Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Cyber Security have announced the impending launch of a new national communications surveillance infrastructure that they are comparing to the likes of the National Security Agency in the United States. Although details of how the system works and the extent of its deployment have not been released, Spotlight Zimbabwe reported that security experts from the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian governments assisted in its development.
Myanmar civil society advocates tell the other side of Mark Zuckerberg’s “success” story
During a recent interview with Vox, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg touted Facebook’s efforts to curb mass messaging efforts intended to incite violence between Buddhists and Muslims, at the peak of the conflict in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in late 2017. In response, a coalition of civil society and digital rights groups in Myanmar wrote an open letter to Zuckerberg, telling their side of the story and demonstrating how the incident showed flaws—not efficiencies—in Facebook’s system. They wrote:
From where we stand, this case exemplifies the very opposite of effective moderation: it reveals an over-reliance on third parties, a lack of a proper mechanism for emergency escalation, a reticence to engage local stakeholders around systemic solutions and a lack of transparency.
“Common Sense Wanted: Resilience to ‘Post-Truth’ and Its Predictors“— Martin Lessenski, Open Society Institute Media Literacy Index 2018