Africa: Governments Use "Fake News" Claims to Quash Dissent

(File photo)
1 November 2018

Internet freedom remains on the decline worldwide, a report by US-based think tank Freedom House shows. DW's Chrispin Mwakideu spoke to Freedom on the Net 2018 Program Manager Mai Truong about the findings.

The internet is becoming more and more restricted around the world. This had led to the weakening of democracy as disinformation and propaganda disseminated online continue to poison the public sphere. These are the findings of Freedom on the Net 2018 report, titled The rise of Digital Authoritarianism.

DW: The Freedom on the Net report states that authoritarian regimes are using "fake news" as a pretext to move closer to the China model. Can you expound on that finding?

Mai Truong: That is true. In our report, we tracked 65 countries around the world and we found a stark number of countries that either passed laws that ban fake news or try to penalize the spread of fake news, or actually use pre-existing laws to crack down on the dissemination of so-called false news on social media. So we saw a growing number of arrests for the spread of fake news or the passage of new laws in several countries around the world.

Fake news is a broad topic but how do these countries justify clamping down on internet freedom?

Fake news is certainly a problem that we are seeing around the world and it is often times a legitimate concern. But in some of these authoritarian countries we're actually seeing the governments using fake news as an excuse to crack down on dissent in particular or criticisms against the government or government officials.

Kenya and Nigeria are named as countries where internet freedom has declined. What is behind this?

Yes, in Kenya there was actually a law to precisely address this issue of fake news that is quite punitive. It is currently on hold, while on appeal, but the mere passage of it itself did mark a decline for the country in internet freedom. Also, in Nigeria, there is an increasing number of arrests of social media individuals or bloggers for critical commentary online.

The data of online users is being used and abused. What remedies are there to prevent internet users, especially potential voters, falling prey to ploys or disinformation?

When it comes to their personal data, users should certainly be aware of the privacy settings of all of their accounts online - notably social media, if that's where they are consuming the majority of their news, is to ensure that they are protected in terms of their personal information in their privacy settings. Then, for how to mitigate the spread or the consumption of fake news and disinformation online is to make sure that they are aware of the sources this is coming from and to do their own due dilligence when it comes to the different information sources that they are coming across.


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