More Governments Granting Themselves Extra Censorship Powers With 'Fake News' Laws

from the silence,-peasants! dept

Fake news is apparently everywhere. All over Europe, legislators and officials are trying to regulate content with “fake news” legislation and directives, as though the term could somehow be narrowly-defined enough that regulation could even have a positive effect. All these new laws and demands for cooperation from tech companies are sure to generate plenty of negative effects, not the least of which is these laws will become tools for censorship and a super-easy way to silence dissent.

It’s not just a European thing. It’s happening in nations around the world. Countries already known for heavy-handed control of the internet are using “fake news” to seize even more control of news outlets and communications platforms. Countries generally viewed as more generous with their rights are lining themselves up for authoritarian mission creep by setting themselves up as the final arbiter of real/fake news.

The EFF is reporting similar efforts are underway in Latin and South America.

In 2018, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica, among others, will undergo electoral processes involving their respective presidencies. These governments are beginning to exploit concerns over “fake news,” as though it were a novel phenomenon, in order to adopt proposals to increase state control over online communications and expand censorship and Internet surveillance. Such rhetoric glosses over the fact that propaganda from traditional Latin American media monopolies has long been the norm in the region, and that Internet companies have played a critical role in counterbalancing this power dynamic.

These governments aren’t concerned about fake news, but they are concerned about their official narratives being countered by speech carried on platforms they can’t directly control. Fake news legislation is an easy way to grant themselves the power they need to nuke content that contradicts government portrayals of events, incidents, and lawmaking efforts.

Brazil’s take on regulating fake news is one of the worst. It not only turns the production or sharing of government-designated “fake news” into a crime, but also allows the government to directly target internet companies for content posted by their users. But efforts by other countries are equally awful.

After fraud accusations marred 2017 Honduras’ presidential elections, Honduras finds itself in a grave political crisis. Amidst the turbulence, a bill regulating online speech was introduced in the Honduran National Congress in February 2018. The bill, which was widely criticized by civil society, provides broad leeway for Internet companies to block Internet content in the name of protecting users from hate speech, discrimination, or insults. The bill compels companies to take down third-party content within 24 hours in order not to be fined or even find their services blocked.

So, “fake news” remains nothing more than a dodge. And a particularly handy one, at that. Evidence of foreign meddling in domestic elections is troubling, but the answer isn’t to hand over more direct control of communications platforms to governments. All this does is further break up the internet into hundreds of fiefdoms with different rule sets, presided over by government officials who don’t care for criticism, accountability, or transparency. The better governments will get worse and the terrible governments will become abominable. But every government that puts a law like this in place will eventually abuse it to shut down dissent, criticism, or other legitimate speech it has no business regulating.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “More Governments Granting Themselves Extra Censorship Powers With 'Fake News' Laws”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Of course. But the Brazil coup government would have used some other pretext to shut down opposition if it wasn’t “fake news”. It doesn’t mean that every government in the world is acting in bad faith or is incapable of dealing with nuance.

Tim may be right on this matter. The tone of the article just seems like a tired refrain in the current climate. TD always seems to think that any regulation of their Silicon Valley friends, by any state, anywhere, is wrong.

If the author acknowledged that there is a real problem, and offered any sort of alternative mitigation strategy, other than the implied “just leave them alone”, then it may be more convincing.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Do you really trust any government, anywhere, to act in “good faith”, and in good faith, execute a truly benevolent, apolitical, nuanced enforcement against “fake news”, which said government possesses the unique omnipotence necessary to filter out only real fake news, leaving only fact or clearly identified (for the reader) sarcasm or humor and/or fiction?
Personally, expecting any government to act in good faith, without any prejudice or ulterior motive whatsoever, is, in the kindest term I can think of, naive. Expecting government to be capable at such a task, when we still have “birthers” holding office, makes me think you need adult supervision when using scissors.
Look, I don’t think government always intends, or even causes harm with every regulation. But good intentions often come with unintended consequences, perfect example is SESTA/FOSTA. And while some legislators think they are protecting people, with laws for their “own good”, they end up taking away choices that citizens are best able to make for themselves (if a payday loan will keep your car on the road so you don’t lose your job, shouldn’t you be the one the one making that choice?) And once a law is on the books, getting rid of it nearly impossible.
There is mitigation to dangers of fake news, access to other information and news sources. The freedom to read a variety of sources and perspectives, to determine for one’s self the facts. People do not need the government to tell them what is real and what is fake. You should read or re-read 1984 is you really don’t understand how dangerous this is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I mostly agree. I would not trust Trump or >90% of current governments to do anything reasonable to address “fake news”. I see most of these guys as being at the heart of the problem and not remotely as being a potential part of the solution.

But I also see Facebook, and the other Silicon Valley information controllers, as they are currently constituted, as being an integral part of the problem too.

In fact the entire “fake news” problem, the real problem, not the one Trump and others have re-imagined it to be, is about organised political operators, including members of our current governments, clandestinely using Facebook to deliver disinformation to effect political outcomes.

I don’t support a Ministry of Truth* issuing arbitrary edicts to take down “inappropriate” stories.

I just don’t support concentration of power, especially with regard to information, as it currently exists.

Yes, it would be ideal if people put down their Coke and Doritos and decided to navigate from Facebook to something less stupid and manipulative.

But they won’t. Everyone knows that. That’s why Facebook controls the advertising market. Because everyone knows that that is were the docile sheep graze.

I don’t use Facebook and I don’t know how their algorithms work.

But I do know that they are stealing personal information and selling it to Bond villains. I do know that they are used to deliver targeted, mathematically optimised psy-fuck propaganda to key marginal electoral seats. I do know that they have done a bunch of creepy, unethical experiments on “their” users without their consent.

Facebook, and the other data thieves, need to get fucked back until they realise that our data belongs to us, not them.

* Yes, I have read it, more than once.

Anonymous Coward says:

The way they are tackling ‘Fake News’ is so wrong headed they have to be doing it purely for censorship/propaganda purposes… essentially pushing their own ‘fake news’

A more elegant approach would be to require transparency on who is paying for what is being said. Requiring an audit trail of where the words originated from that is being said. Is a new person reporting on news they witnessed vs are they saying something because someone shoved lots of money into their pockets.

Ninja (profile) says:

It’s not a surprise Brazil is up there with the worst efforts considering we suffered a white coup less than 2 years ago and the Government is clearly ruling for the elite. We haven’t overcome the end of slavery (the last country to abolish) and the military dictatorship that started in 1964 and only ended at the end of the 80’s (with a good helping hand from the US govt, sadly). A government from bigoted assholes to bigoted assholes.

Anonymous Coward says:

of course, the main reason for this is so EVERY GOVERNMENT, EVERYWHERE has eyes on EVERY CITIZEN, EVERYWHERE and can then do the usual thing, scoop whomsoever they want up, whisk them off so they are never heard from again! the whole planet is turning into a giant government, where the people have no rights, no freedom and no say on anything, while governments and friends do whatever they want. as soon as something happens, any member of the public, (with emphasis on ‘leaders’) that reports it is immediately arrested and imprisoned. democracy is all but dead with so-called ‘law enforcement’ doing nothing except what governments say, removing the term ‘law’ completely. police states are everywhere, with more joining by the minute. we are going back to the days where the people are nothing but slaves!! and this all started with the purpose built ‘financial crisis’!

Anonymous Coward says:

And in other fake news...

… the Glomar Voyager, successor to the Explorer is setting off once again to search for manganese nodules along the sea floor near where undersea telecommunications cable have been laid. The CIA … sorry, the Howard Hughes estate expects the Voyager to turn a profit within the next budget cycle … sorry, within the next 4 years.

And now, the weather…

Anonymous Coward says:

How did the past generations handle this fake news thing?

It certainly is not new, the only thing new is depth and breadth of distribution.

It is possible that more speech is necessary in order to combat the yellow journalism aka fake news but the purveyors of same are not having it. Censorship is their game, but they do not understand the many possible outcomes. What will they do when it all goes sideways?

ECA (profile) says:

Always entertaining

And how do you Prove its not fake..
You get to goto court and spend TONS of money..
Or you shut up and cancel the news..

1 more step in a way to Cause havoc. And complicate things so no one can say anything, unless they can Prove something, but even IF’ you can prove it, you have to spend 6-12 months in a Court to SHOW you can prove it..

How about cutting certain words out of our language??
Could have
might have
may have..

News is cheap and simple. “THIS HAPPENED” this isnt, “might have been caused by”..

The Problem here is OPINION.. And if you can say the NEWS is fake its only 1 step farther that things get interesting.

This happened..
Milk industry had a slump so the Gov. backed Commercials about MILK being good for you.. Which is 1/2 true, but No Adult Mammal drinks milk after a point in their life.
Meet industry had a slump…SAME THING..

We have lots of things in the past our gov. did or said, that have led to a FEW bad things happening.. Including Dusting 1/2 this nation with DDT..including people..
Methanol…in Alcohol to stop people from drinking??

Then comes strange things. like the USA gov. making Marijuana and hemp illegal, Even with TONS of information on its uses and habits, from around the world, we would rather have Alcoholics them persons sitting around Zoned out of their Gourds…Or Clothing, tarps, Ropes,… that lasts more then 1 year..

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »