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Human Rights 4 April 2018

Countries Consider Penalties for Spreading ‘Fake News’

Grant Gross
By Grant GrossTechnology Reporter

A handful of countries have recently considered passing new laws or regulations to combat so-called fake news, with Malaysia adding penalties of up to six years in jail for distributors.

Malaysia’s controversial Anti-Fake News 2018 bill, which passed this week, also includes a fine of US$123,000. An earlier draft of the legislation included jail time of up to 10 years. Under the new law, fake news is “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false,” as determined by Malaysian courts.

The new Malaysian law covers digital news outlets, including video and audio, and social media, and it applies to anyone who maliciously spreads fake news inside and outside the country, including foreigners, as long as Malaysia or its citizens are affected.

Eric Paulsen, cofounder and executive director of Malaysian civil rights group Lawyers for Liberty, called the new law “shocking.” “Freedom of speech, info & press will be as good as dead in Malaysia,” he tweeted in late March.

The law will create a chilling effect on free speech, Malaysia lawyer Syahredzan Johan wrote in TheStar.com. “While we may hope that the implementation of the bill will be transparent and fair, the wide definition given to ‘fake news’ and the imprecise nature of some of the provisions may lead to selective and arbitration implementation and abuse,” he added.

Government officials have defended the law. Social media outlets are unable to monitor fake news, Azalina Othman, minister in charge of law, told the Washington Post. “No one is above the law. We are all accountable for our actions,” she said.

Meanwhile, India had proposed new rules that would allow the government to pull the official accreditation from journalist found to have written or broadcast “fake news.” But the Indian government quickly withdrew the proposal this week after strong opposition from journalists.

The proposal came just days after an Indian website editor was arrested for an apparently false report saying that Muslims had attacked a monk from the Jain faith.

The European Union is also looking for ways to combat fake news, primarily by cracking down on social media companies. The EU wants a “clear game plan” that sets the rules on how social media outlets can operate during sensitive election periods, said Julian King, the European commissioner for security.

King wants more transparency for the internal algorithms used by websites to promote stories, new limits on the harvesting of personal information for political purposes, and disclosure about the funding for sponsored content on websites, according to CNBC.

The EU proposals came partially in response to news reports saying Facebook indirectly shared millions of user profiles with Cambridge Analytica, a voter data vendor used by U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Read our interview with Wired Editor in Chief Nicholas Thompson on the changing role of media, then explore the 2017 Internet Society Global Internet Report: Paths to Our Digital Future and read the recommendations to ensure that humanity remains at the core of tomorrow’s Internet.

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