How internet regulations enable censorship in South East Asia as disinformation worsens conflict in the Sahel
Governments in South East Asia are using laws to stifle online free expression, Brazil's Electoral Court is holding talks with platforms, and disinformation is worsening conflict in the Sahel region
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We have previously highlighted instances where governments have put measures in place ostensibly intended to contain the production and spread of disinformation, but which have been used as a cover for the chilling of free online expression. In this edition, we look at South East Asia, where governments are justifying their actions using examples from elsewhere, in this case in Germany where a law aimed at combating hate speech and fake news in social networks is in place.
We also highlight the rise of disinformation in Africa’s Sahel region, which covers Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The region has seen a number of coups and conflicts, and the phenomenon of weaponised information is becoming more frequent. The content is shared widely on WhatsApp, making it difficult to trace, further worsening the "information war", as some have called it.
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court continues to engage with platforms ahead of general elections in October, which we have highlighted previously. The court has held meetings with a number of key platforms used in the country, with the notable exception of Telegram.
Elsewhere, messaging app Viber has pledged to partner with legitimate sources of information to help combat misinformation ahead of elections in the Philippines, where the service is used by more than 40 million Filipinos.
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Governments in some Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, have effected restrictions to the Internet in the name of curbing disinformation and safeguarding national security. These actions come at a time when increased global scrutiny of major Western social media platforms has rekindled the debate over the role of governments in regulating the online sphere, and this conversation is further compounded by the growing concern that Big Tech should not be trusted to self regulate.
“Proponents of the regulatory approach, such as Singapore and the Philippines, point to Germany, a democratic country, to rationalise enacting fake new laws. That justification is however not a panacea, as the devil is in the details. The reason? In countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, broadly worded anti-fake news measures embolden governments to execute implementation according to their will” — Dien Nguyen An Luong, Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
Africa's Sahel region is experiencing a surge of misinformation and disinformation, which threatens to worsen the already volatile political situation in the region. The Sahel includes parts of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, and heightening political tensions in these countries has led to a cycle where these tensions contribute to more misinformation, manifesting as altered news bulletins and manipulated photos shared on social networks in the region, and vice versa. This has been made worse by a lack of access to traditional media, with few credible sources of information able to provide an official and reliable counter narrative.
"There was a lull in the production and circulation of fake news for a while, but it has picked up again. With the new geopolitical stakes, notably the difficult situation between Mali and its former partners, and the arrival of Russia’s Wagner Group, there is a lot of fake news circulating today" — Abdoulaye Guindo, coordinator of the Malian news website Benbere
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court signs agreement with 8 digital platforms to fight fake news (CNN Brasil)
Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court (TSE) held a meeting on February 15 with representatives of digital platforms on measures to combat disinformation in the 2022 elections. The meeting was led by the president of the TSE, Minister Luís Roberto Barroso, and had representatives from Facebook, Google, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp and Kwai. Telegram did not respond to the invites.
“This is an important moment in Brazilian life and in democratic life, we are all concerned and committed to preserving an environment of free, broad, robust debate, but which preserves certain minimum rules of legality and civility, so we are committed to fighting the hate and criminality spread online in conspiracy theories” — Luís Roberto Barroso, President of Brazil’s Superior Electoral Court
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