Netizen Report: Malaysia Outlaws ‘Fake News’ — Will Singapore Be Next?

Photo by Cory Doctorow. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Advox Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

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 will be subject to fines of up to 500,000 ringgit (123,000 US dollars) and a maximum sentence of six years in prison. The law also would place additional obligations on internet platforms such as Facebook, requiring them to take down false information in accordance with content removal orders, or face steep fines. An infographic by the South East Asia Press Alliance offers more detail on the law and its implications for free speech.

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.

In a written submission to the committee, freelance journalist and Global Voices author Kirsten Han argued:

[the country] should be careful not to trade important principles of justice and due process for speed….Hasty measures carry the danger of according too much power to the authorities, at the expense of freedom of expression and open debate in Singapore.

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 US and the UK, 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” or OTT 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 ICT Ministry 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.

Grindr shared users’ sexual health data (but promises to stop)

An investigation by the Norwegian non-profit research group SINTEF revealed that Grindr, the popular LGBTQ dating app, shared sensitive health data, including users’ HIV statuses and “last tested” date, with at least two third-party companies. The two companies, Apptimize and Localytics, were under contract with Grindr to help them improve their services.

A Tumblr post by Grindr Chief Technology Officer Scott Chen explained the company “…restricted data shared to that which was appropriate for the services they are providing and encrypted it when providing it to the contractors. This data from HIV status fields was used to test and support development of a new features, like our recently released HIV Test Reminders.” Three days after the report was made public, Grindr pledged to discontinue all sharing of HIV-related user data with third parties.

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.

New Research


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