India plans to ban ‘fake’ news on social media platforms

A draft proposal for new IT rules indicated that the Indian government plans to prohibit social media platforms from hosting any information identified as false.

As reported by Reuters, any information identified as ‘fake or false’ by the Press Information Bureau (PIB) or any other agency authorised for fact-checking by the government would be prohibited if the new rules are adopted. Social media platforms or other ‘online intermediaries’ would be required to ‘make reasonable efforts’ to ensure that their users do not ‘host, display, upload, modify, publish, transmit, store, update or share’ information deemed as ‘fake or false’.

Twitter urged to change policies to protect right to information and press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have urged Twitter to revise its policies in order to protect the right to information and uphold press freedom. The organisations sent a joint letter to Twitter’s management team expressing their concern about recent developments regarding the company’s policies and actions, noting that these ‘contribute to a hostile environment for journalists and threaten media freedom more broadly’.

The letter also outlines steps Twitter can take to ‘regain integrity and uphold the basic human right to information’. For instance, the company is invited to implement transparent corporate policies aligned with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, to preserve and update its annual transparency report, and to reinstate the Trust and Safety Council.

Internet for Trust: Regulating Digital Platforms for Information as a Public Good

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will host a global multistakeholder conference on the topic of regulating digital platforms. The event will bring together UN entities, other intergovernmental organisations, ministers, regulators, judicial actors, the private sector, civil society, academia, and the technical communities to discuss challenges and ways forward in ensuring that regulatory approaches targeting digital platforms support freedom of expression and the availability of accurate and reliable information in the public sphere.

The conference will feature debates and consultations on the draft Guidance on regulating digital platforms: a multistakeholder approach, issued by UNESCO for public consultation in December 2022. The guidance is dedicated to actors seeking to regulate, co-regulate ,and self-regulate digital platforms, and aimed to assist them in developing approaches that support freedom of expression and the availability of accurate and reliable information in the public sphere, while dealing with content that potentially damages human rights and democracy.

Registration for the event is open until 17 February 2023. More details are available on the conference website.

Reporters Without Borders raises concerns over cybercrime and freedom of expression bills resubmitted to Iraqi parliament

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) raised concerns over two old draft laws resubmitted to the Iraqi parliament, one dealing with cybercrime and the other with freedom of expression and the right to protest peacefully. According to RSF, the two bills were first submitted to the parliament in 2011, and then resubmitted in their original form every time a new parliament took office, ignoring previous debates and amendments.

The cybercrime draft law is seen as containing threats to journalists and freedom of the press. For instance, it imposes penalties ranging from a minimum fine of 10 million Iraqi dinars (more than €6,500) to prison terms of seven to ten years for anyone who uses the internet ‘with the intention to undermine religious, family or social values and principles’. The second draft law is criticised for containing ‘vague and ambiguous language that is open to interpretation and therefore to manipulation by the authorities’.

CPJ condemns cyber libel conviction in the Philippines

In the Philippines, a Quezon City court found Frank Cimatu, a writer for the independent Philippine news site Rappler, guilty of cyber libel, in relation to a Facebook post the journalist made in 2017 concerning alleged corruption by the then Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol. The court determined that the post was originally posted in a public environment, despite Cimatu’s claims that it was private and only visible to his Facebook friends.

Commenting on the court decision, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called on Philippine authorities not to contest the journalist’s appeal and to ‘stop filing spurious cyber libel charges against members of the press’.

Amnesty International raises concerns over cybercrime law investigations in Tunisia

Amnesty International argues that Tunisian authorities have strengthened restrictions on freedom of expression by passing a new decree-law on cybercrime (in September 2022) and using it to open criminal investigations against at least four people.

According to the organisation, the law does not clearly define the parameters and requirements for approving surveillance and data-gathering methods in a way that ensures that human rights are not violated. It mandates harsh prison sentences based on ambiguous concepts like ‘fake news,’ and gives the government broad authority to track people’s online activities and gather personal information with the argument that doing so might help in revealing the truth or is necessary for the investigation of a suspected crime.

CJEU: Search engines to dereference allegedly inaccurate content

At the request of the German Federal Court of Justice, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has held that search engine operators shall dereference content that the user shows to be manifestly inaccurate, in the exercise of their right to be forgotten. In the case at hand, two managers of a group of investment companies filed a request with Google asking for dereference of results of searches made with their names that reveal articles containing inaccurate claims about the group. Also, they requested the removal of their photos from the list of results of an image search made on the basis of their names. The burden of proof is on requesting users to provide evidence capable of establishing the inaccuracy of the information. Such evidence does not need to stem from a judicial decision proving the inaccuracy. In regard to the display of photos, the CJEU stated that the search engine operators must conduct a separate balancing of competing rights and that the informative value of photos should be taken into account without taking into consideration the context of their publication on the internet page from which they are taken.

Russia bans LGBTQ ‘propaganda’, including on social media

A new Russian law bans ‘propaganda’ about ‘nontraditional sexual relations’ in the media, advertising, or on social media. The new law extends the ban on ‘propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations’ among minors, in place since 2013, to adults, with steep fines or suspension of business activities for Russians, and expulsion from the country for foreigners who are found guilty. The law also prohibits the issuance of a rental or streaming certificate for films promoting nontraditional sexual relations and preferences.
The new law imposes fines for ‘propaganda’ of nontraditional sexual relations or preferences to about US$6,400 for citizens and US$80,000 for organisations. Roskomnadzor, Russia’s internet regulator, is tasked with the enforcement of these rules.

Pakistani website blocked after investigating the country’s army chief

The Pakistani investigative site ‘Fact Focus’ was completely unreachable for more than 20 hours on 21 November after publishing its ‘Bajwa Leaks’ story detailing the immense fortune accumulated by Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa’s family since he became the Chief of Army Staff. According to Fact Focus editors, the site was blocked by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, a governmental entity, on the directives of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Information and Broadcasting. It became partially available again when the RSF (Reporters Without Borders) and other civil society representatives reported continuous suppression.

RSF urges Greek and EU authorities to launch investigation on spyware of journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have urged Greek authorities to launch an immediate independent investigation into arbitrary surveillance and called on European institutions to impose a moratorium on the use of spyware. The calls were made in the context of allegations that 13 Greek journalists have been targeted by the Predator spyware, reportedly acquired by Greek intelligence services.

On 3 October 2022, Secretary of State George Gerapetridis pledged to present a draft law amending the rules on surveillance within two weeks. According to RSF, the draft law, made public on 15 November, appears to allow a person previously under surveillance to be notified only three years later.