Technology

When the Government Says You're Fake News

Countries across the world tackle political misinformation with authoritarian censorship.

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In the midst of a massive financial corruption scandal in Malaysia that led to the ouster of the country's prime minister, an independent online news outlet named States Times Review published a story last November claiming that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was being investigated and that his country's banks may have played a role in money laundering.

Leaders of Singapore's central bank were outraged, calling the claims "baseless and defamatory." The country's state-run media development agency ordered the story to be taken down. Site founder Alex Tan, a Singaporean political activist living in Australia, refused. So Singapore blocked access within the country to States Times Review and then asked Facebook to remove a post promoting the story. The social media site declined.

Singapore's leadership didn't take the refusal well. In April, legislation was introduced that would empower the government to demand that sites take down stories deemed—by the state—to be "fake news." Officials would also be able to force social media sites such as Facebook to include "warnings" on posts declared false. Resisting these orders and maligning the government could earn a person or company fines of up to $740,000 and potentially incarceration.

Representatives of the Asia Internet Coalition, an industry association of leading internet companies including Facebook, Google, and Twitter, warned that the bill "gives the Singapore government full discretion over what is true or false." The group calls the plan an "overreach" that "poses significant risks to freedom of expression and speech, and could have severe ramifications both in Singapore and around the world."

Yet Singapore is not the only government using threats of punishment to force online platforms to police content. In March, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that allows government officials to charge individuals and online media for spreading fake news or information that insults state symbols or officials. As in Singapore, violators face fines and potentially jail time.

When critics yelled "censorship" at the Russian government, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov pointed out that this area of "fake news" is "under strict regulation in many countries of the world, even in European states."

Peskov didn't specifically reference France, but it's worth looking at that country's efforts to control the spread of false information online. Last November, at the urging of President Emmanuel Macron, the French parliament passed a law allowing judges to order the removal of what they deem "fake news" during the three months before an election. It also gave the country's national broadcasting agency the authority to suspend foreign television channels that distribute allegedly false information that might affect a French election. State-run Russia Today interpreted that part of the law as explicitly targeting itself and complained about the censorship. Then Russia put into place even harsher laws.

A third component of Macron's policy recently bit the French government on the derriere. The country now requires media companies to disclose who paid for political advertisements and to maintain a database showing who is responsible for sponsored political messages being promoted through their platforms. Rather than deal with these new obligations, Twitter stopped accepting political advertisements in France altogether. As a result, the company decided in April it would not run government ads encouraging citizens to vote in May elections for the European Parliament.

Eventually, Twitter decided to make an exception, tweaking its policy to allow the French government to run its voting advertisements. But the company is otherwise refusing to run paid campaign ads on Twitter in France.

This single exception is not enough for some officials, who are upset that their own political advertising needs are being affected by the blanket ban. Three French ministers said in a public statement that Twitter should simply accept the government's transparency demands (regardless of the additional financial or labor commitments the company might have to take on to do so) and run their ads.

That France, Russia, and Singapore are all on the same page is a stark reminder that governments almost universally want to stop the distribution of some political messages while mandating the distribution of others.

NEXT: Brickbat: Smoked Out

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    1. I must object to using the term “master of trolls” in reference to one of the great men of modern times. Hitherto, I had thought this expression was appropriately reserved for our nation’s leading criminal “parodist.” In regards to which it should be pointed out that “satire” is the worst from of misinformation, and that there is, today, not merely historical, but ample legal precedent for banning forms of such discourse that impinge upon the reputations of respected members of our society. See the documentation at:

      https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

  1. If these companies were really outraged, and really wanted their users have free speech rights, they would suspend service in these countries until the voters replaced the politicians.
    “Rather than deal with these new obligations, Twitter stopped accepting political advertisements in France altogether.”
    If twitter can restrict ads in a specific country, it can also just keep sending out tweets saying no other tweets will be allowed in that country until the offending laws are repealed.
    There is no question the citizens prefer social media lies and ads to political control.

    1. EXACTLY!

      The problem is not the internet freedom, or the USA Freedom of Speech, or what people are saying.

      The problem are Fascist nations like Belgium, France, Russia, UK, Germany trying to silence dissent to their Socialist propaganda.

      1. And the tech firms HAPPILY go along with it.

        If they are based in America, they should abide by American laws on free speech et al. If France wants to limit speech, France can create its own terrible social media.

    2. Except that’s a lot of money to leave lying on the table. And a lot of employees lying in the dust. Like it or not there’s a lot of ad revenue in social media. Singapore it pretty major. It’s not like refusing to service Myanmar or North Korea. There’s actual money in Singapore.

      If I ran Twitter I would be tempted to pull out, but the board would have my ass so it would be pointless to even try. But other things could be done other than a full pullout, which directly harms the people who need free and open information the most. There are ways around firewalls, so there are ways to get social media into Singapore.

  2. The big tech companies is are already doing this worse than governments could ever dream of. Zuckerberg admitted to asking the government of Ireland which ads they should allow during last years abortion referendum. But private company and all that, so who cares right?

    1. so who cares right?

      Right

    2. <em so who cares right?

      About half the people here seem totally cool with giving away their freedoms to California on pure faith that the market will correct these companies. It baffles me.

      1. Do you really want Trump et. al. establishing the Department of Truth? The only entities more invested in controlling information for their own benefit than partisan tech giants are governments… and who else is going to reign in those tech giants?

        Boycott the stupid companies, but keep regulation to a minimum.

        1. I don’t want to regulate them.

  3. Most of it is likely not even misinformation.

    These Socialist nations want to end dissent to their propaganda. The internet is one of the greatest inventions ever as it allows anyone- anywhere to voice their dissent in almost any format they would choose.

  4. We laugh at this, but we are on the edge of this happening here. The only reason Trump hasn’t done it is because he doesn’t think he can get away with it. Several up on stage at the Dumbocrat debate would love to do it. And entire demographics are convinced that “fake news” is the root of all evils in the country.

  5. Remember France declaring that a whole bunch of archive.org pages were “terrorist propaganda”?

    (Remove spaces to get working url.)

    https://blog.archive .org/2019/04/10/official-eu- agencies-falsely-report-more-than-550- archive-org-urls-as-terrorist-content/

  6. But the truth is people want to listen to only fake news, but what media does is to create traffic of people so that the news goes much viral. To get help with AT&T Email Not Working, please visit our website-http://www.emailcustomerservice247.com/att-email-customer-service/ to that you can get experts advice as well as the proper solution towards your problem with it.

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