Declining freedom of speech, hate speech and climate & election disinformation
And, learnings from running a fact-checking consortium in India
We hope you’ve had a good week.
In this edition we bring you updates on how disinformation networks on social media platforms threaten democratic discourses ahead of the general elections in Kenya, the Assad regime’s new law in Syria that imposes imprisonment for citizens accused of spreading ‘disinformation’ that undermines the state's reputation, the increasing problem of hate speech in India and Meta’s crackdown of a climate disinformation network linked to two Brazilian Army soldiers.
We are also proud to have worked with Ekta, a consortium of Indian fact-checking organizations, in its one year journey of collaboration. In this edition of Checklist, we bring you insights and learnings Ekta has gathered from running a consortium and a fact-checking training and mentorship program for journalism students.
If there are updates you would like us to share from your country or region, please reach out to us at email@example.com.
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Kenya's upcoming general election is likely to see a high volume of discussions on social media platforms, where crucial civic information – but also disinformation and hate speech – are likely to be amplified. The country has seen a number of incidents where these platforms have been used to spread disinformation. This is made worse by context bias, where platforms are unaware or unwilling to address the issues of bias in regions that they are unfamiliar with, leaving gaps that bad actors can and have used to influence political discourse going forward.
“As the election draws nearer, many platforms are still unwilling to publicly commit to a roadmap that outlines how they are going to fight misinformation and disinformation in Kenya and Africa more broadly. We need platforms to inform Kenyan users about how they will use algorithms to spot hate speech and election-related disinformation; how they will foster relationships with civil society to factcheck content ,and finally, how they’ll help Kenyans get accurate information about where to vote” -- Odanga Madung, Mozilla fellow
Syria's Assad approves new law tightening freedom of speech (Middle East Eye)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad signed into law a bill on Monday that would impose a six-month jail sentence for citizens residing in the country accused of spreading disinformation that undermines the state's reputation.
The latest move follows months of growing discontent over a spiraling economic crisis. A decade of war, western sanctions and the Covid-19 pandemic have devastated the Syrian economy, pushing most of the population into poverty as the value of the Syrian pound has plummeted.
Myanmar jailed more writers and public intellectuals in crackdowns last year than any other country, according to a freedom of expression advocacy group. PEN America’s annual census of detained writers, the Freedom to Write Index, found Myanmar’s junta detained at least 26 writers in 2021 as it sought to suppress opposition after seizing power from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
“In Myanmar and in countries across the globe, writers and public intellectuals are being imprisoned for the ‘crime’ of exercising their freedom of expression and, in many cases, for using the power of the written word to fight back against authoritarianism.” -- Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of PEN America’s “free expression at risk” programmes
Hate speech has been a problem in India for decades...But the scale of the problem has accelerated in recent years, with Indians being regularly bombarded with hateful speech and polarising content. With social media and TV channels amplifying remarks and tweets even by minor politicians - many of whom find it the easiest way to make headlines…..India doesn't have a legal definition for hate speech. But a number of provisions across laws prohibit certain forms of speech, writing and actions as exceptions to free speech.
"Earlier, hate speech would usually rise in the run-up to elections. But now, with our changed media landscape, politicians have realised that something offensive said in one state could be magnified for direct political benefit in another state immediately." -- Neelanjan Sircar, political scientist
Meta, the holding company that controls Facebook and Instagram, announced this Thursday (04/7) that it had identified and taken down a network of profiles and accounts linked to two Brazilian Army soldiers who were running a disinformation operation on environmental issues. A report produced by the digital intelligence company Graphika, which carried out an independent investigation using data provided by Facebook, showed that the profiles created by the duo criticized the actions of non-governmental organizations and praised the action of the Army in the fight against deforestation in the Amazon. The names of the soldiers were not released.
"Although the people behind it tried to hide their identities and coordination, our investigation found links with individuals associated with the Brazilian Army," says Meta. The reports also do not say whether the pair's action acted alone or at the behest of someone else.
What’s new at Meedan
Meedan is honored to work with Ekta, a consortium of fact-checking groups and organizations working to address the quality of online information in India. Ekta's member organizations are AFP Fact Check, BoomLive, Factly, India Today Fact Check, Vishvas News and The Quint – and Meedan. Ekta, India’s first fact-checking consortium of IFCN signatory organizations turned one in April 2022. For the seven founding members of Ekta, it’s been one year of coming together as collaborators, several meetings to arrive at a common goal, and a lot of hard work to launch a training and mentorship program to build the next generation of fact-checkers in India.