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The meaning of the world day against cyber-censorship

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The meaning of the world day against cyber-censorship

March 12 is the world day against cyber-censorship, proposed in 2008 by Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International. The aim of the day is to point a light on the need to keep the internet free and accessible to anyone and from anywhere in the world, to safeguard freedom of expression.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the disturbing implications of cybercrime

by Pierluigi Paganini

Remembering it this year has a different and deeper meaning due to the exceptional context that the world is experiencing. Yesterday the news came that Russia, from now on, will consider Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, as an extremist organization. This is the Russian response to Meta’s initiative to allow Ukrainian citizens to express their hatred and contempt for the Russian military. Such freedom of expression, which would normally not be tolerated by Meta’s guidelines, which in this case would apply an exception to this due precisely to the emotional state caused by the war, the Russian government did not like it. The explanations by Nick Clegg, at the head of Meta’s external relations, which tried to justify this choice by stating that the general expressions of russophobia, outside the context of the war, will continue to not be accepted. However, this retaliation comes after Facebook and Twitter have no longer been accessible for over a week, except via VPN, by order of the Russian telecommunications authority.

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If this epilogue is not surprising, given Moscow’s need to control the flow of information at home to justify the human and economic costs of what was to be a “liberation of Ukraine”, some reflection is needed on one of the triggers of these. recent choices of Russia.
This maneuver to obfuscate the Western media, with the infamous law that provides for up to 15 years in prison for those who spread “false” news about the war, that is, guilty of being against the Putinian narrative, and with the ban on Facebook and Twitter, is the response to the European initiative expressed by the President of the European Commission Von der Leyen on 27 February to ban Russian state media RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik. RT and Sputnik, guilty of spreading disinformation on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, were therefore blocked both on television and online, thanks to the active involvement of Meta. Google and Twitter. In fact, if it was necessary to move from a formal regulation, published on March 1, to blackout the television channels, the online one took place thanks to the pressure exerted by the Union and the Member States on the CEOs of big techs.

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One wonders, therefore, whether in reality it was Europe, always in the front row to defend fundamental rights and freedom of expression, that initiated this escalation of censorship measures, a problem placed by the French editorial staff of RT following the announcement of Von der Leyen.

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The effects of Russian media censorship

As Politico reported on February 28, if on the one hand for Clément Beaune, French secretary of state for European affairs, RT and Sputnik are not comparable to traditional media, whose freedom of expression is to be protected, because they are real and its own Russian media, on the other hand that move would have exposed the European media to countermeasures of equal force by Putin. In fact, it had already happened in Germany with the closure of the Russian branch of Deutsche Welle, in response to the closure of RT in Germany ordered by the government.

Ricardo Gutierrez, secretary general of the European Federation of Journalists, also expressed his concerns about the European choice: “The total closure of a media does not seem to me the best way to combat disinformation or propaganda. This act of censorship can have a totally counterproductive effect on citizens who follow banned media. In our opinion, it is always better to counter the disinformation of propagandist or alleged media by exposing their factual errors or bad journalism, demonstrating their lack of financial or operational independence, highlighting their loyalty to the interests of the government and their contempt for the ‘public interest’.

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The predictable twist of the coin was that now the Western media have had to recall all their journalists who can no longer operate in Russia due to the new law. Aside from citizens who know what Tor is and can therefore access the BBC and other media by bypassing government censorship, the Russian people are even more of a prime victim of propaganda. At the same time, it is more difficult for us to know what is happening there as journalists, including Russian ones, can no longer work independently, under penalty of arrest, and social media are blocked.

Finally, another episode that deserves reflection is the cancellation by Twitter of the tweet of the Russian embassy in the United Kingdom which denies the bombing of the Mariupol hospital. A analogo tweet of the Russian embassy in Italy is still online. Once readers know that this is the Russian embassy account, how useful is it to remove those clearly false statements? What is the service that is done to the public by “purifying” Europe of that propaganda? Are there not abundant alternatives, on television, on newsstands and online, that can prove the falsity of those claims? Should we consider European citizens unable to distinguish a state organ from an independent one? If active social media intervention is necessary to detect bots and fake accounts posing as normal users, including Ukrainian and Russian citizens, as capable of confusing citizens and polluting public debate, it is more difficult to find a real justification for this. preventive censorship. Social media could have limited themselves to adding notices and links to other sources to that tweet and to those of RT and Sputnik, as with covid, and to demonetize their online channels, instead of blocking them. short.

Censorship is never the best solution, it is only the easiest and fastest to implement, but, as it happened, the result it brings is only to create many information islands that prevent citizens from giving a complete picture.

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