It appears Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has formally approved a law which dictates that all social media accounts with more than 5,000 followers in the country be regulated and treated like formal/organized media outlets.
WeeTracker had earlier reported that following concerns over the spate of unrestricted inciting posts and fake news peddled about on social media platforms, the Egyptian parliament had initiated the move to regulate select social media accounts by approving and passing a bill to that effect back in July, which the country’s president has now ratified and signed into law.
By virtue of the latest development, the country’s Supreme Council for Media Regulations has now been formally bestowed with authority to keep tabs on individuals and organizations with more than 5,000 followers on various social media platforms or personal blogs. The Council now also wields the power to flag and suspend or block accounts that publish or broadcast fake news, as well as those that post inciting comments or rhetorics.
Rights Group has been quick to label the move as an infringement on the right to expression, describing the new social media injunction as an attempt at truncating freedom of expression online. Other similar groups have also rendered their voices against the new policy on social media monitoring.
It would appear that the Egyptian government have taken a cue from a number of other African countries who have towed a similar line in an attempt to curb the influence of social media, with Uganda’s well-documented tax on social media use recently covered in a publication by WeeTracker – a move the Ugandan government indicates was borne out of the need to “curb online gossip” and set aside funds for “dealing with the fallouts from online gossip.”
It is also reported that the Ugandan government has realized up to USD 1.8 Mn in tax since the implementation of the law which also affects users of mobile money platforms to a reduced degree. Throw that in with the idea that the country is also looking to charge bloggers a yearly fee and you get how tight the grip is becoming for various online media. It is a similar story from Tanzania where bloggers are currently being charged for licenses to operate their online businesses.
The reach of social media is almost boundless, and access to the platform is generally an all-comers affair. And this is perhaps, what makes it such a powerful tool while also proving its weakness. The latest move by the Egyptian government to keep select social media accounts on a leash may have been borne out of legitimate concerns, as the role of social media in the spread of fake news, hate speeches, and inciting remarks that have the potential to spew violence and threaten political stability cannot be ignored.
The Egyptian parliament is also believed to have set the ball rolling on another piece of legislation which gives authorities the power to block websites that ‘constitute a threat’ to Egypt’s national security through the judiciary; a process that may well mean jail terms for those found guilty of contravening the law. In some quarters, however, concerns are rife that this may be the first of many moves on the part of the government to gradually strip the people of their fundamental rights. And whether these concerns are legitimate is a matter that is certainly open to future debate. But it does look like we will all have to keep our fingers crossed and wait it out as the drama unfolds for now.
Image Source: FinancialExpress