“No sexy women” — that’s how censors in China marked the Lunar New Year. In yet another ambitious attempt to control the behavior of one billion internet users, the country’s top cyberspace watchdog launched a month-long campaign to purge the internet of ex-criminals, “sexy” women and overeating. The goal of this moral clean-up is to sweep away “vulgar” and “unhealthy” tendencies, purify “online ecology” and curtail the spread of “bad culture.” The South China Morning Post has more details here.
RT France, Russia’s last official propaganda stronghold in the West, has shut down. The French arm of the state-sponsored broadcaster was the only one to survive the EU ban on Russian media within Europe, issued shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last February. But the latest round of European Union sanctions on Russia led to the freezing of RT France’s assets and forced them to shut down. The Russian Foreign Ministry promised retaliation. But the ban doesn’t mean the end of Kremlin disinformation campaigns in Europe. Researchers in France anticipate that at least some of the RT French language content will survive through mirror sites and social media.
RT may be shutting down in Europe but it’s growing in Africa, where the network is actively recruiting journalists across the continent offering “competitive packages” and an opportunity to join a company that provides a “true alternative to the Western viewpoint.” The quote is from an email that was shared with me by a Kenyan journalist RT is trying to hire. I have also seen WhatsApp messages sent to journalists across the continent from RT’s headquarters in South Africa. It’s an impressive, comprehensive effort.
RT’s focus on Africa is also deeply strategic. Just look at Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s itinerary. This week, he is back in Africa after enjoying a widely publicized visit to the continent in July, holding what South African officials described as “wonderful” talks in Pretoria. The result of Russia’s intense courtship of the continent: South Africa will hold joint naval drills with Russia and China off its coast next month. South Africa’s foreign minister deflected criticism of the exercises on Monday, saying that hosting such exercises with “friends” was the “natural course of relations.”
Russia’s focus on improving relations with and garnering support from Africa is just one example of the global fallout of the war in Ukraine. There are so many more. We are gathering to discuss them with editors from Asia, Africa and Europe in Coda’s first open Editorial Meeting of the year on January 31. Coda’s members get an exclusive invite to the editorial meeting. Become a Coda member today and get an exclusive invite to Coda’s Editorial meeting.
WE ARE KEEPING AN EYE ON: CHINA AT THE UN
An interesting and possibly consequential conversation is happening in the United Nations. It fuses, in a scary way, two trends we are obsessed with: disinformation and transnational repression.
Here’s Coda’s Isobel Cockerell:
For the past fortnight in Vienna, a U.N. committee has grappled with the gnarliest of concepts: just what constitutes a cybercrime, and how should countries fight and prosecute the criminals? Each member nation was allowed to contribute to suggestions up for debate.
Chinese diplomats came up with a zinger, arguing that each country should legislate against and criminalize the distribution of “false information that could result in serious social disorder.” In practice, in China today, that means shutting down any critics of the Chinese Communist Party in the name of outlawing disinformation.
“A Chinese guest star made its sudden appearance,” wrote Karine Bannelier, Director of the Cyber-Security Institute, who was following the proceedings and posting about them on LinkedIn. “This should be concerning for human rights proponents.”
More than a dozen countries moved against China to scrap the suggestion. Iran and Cape Verde were the only ones to stand by China.
China’s proposal is a huge red flag, showing us that the CCP is trying to bolster its stringent controls on free speech while claiming to be fighting fake news.
“It is another instance where China is trying to shape global governance of digital information to reflect domestic regulations,” said Bryce Barros, a China Affairs analyst at the Alliance for Securing Democracy. The proposal, he said, shows how China has ways of trying to “move United Nations organs to model their domestic control of digital information globally.”
He described how if the proposal was adopted, it could embolden governments with authoritarian tendencies to crack down on freedom of expression — simply by broadly defining it as false information.
- A jaw-dropping Open Democracy exclusive on how the U.K. government helped Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin mount a targeted legal attack on a journalist in London.
- This BBC investigation into the hiring of social media influencers by Nigerian politicians to spread disinformation ahead of elections. Read more on the February elections from Coda.
- And our very own podcast on Audible. “Undercurrents: Tech, Tyrants and Us” brings you stories of people from around the world whose lives were turned upside down when digital technology collided with authoritarians. Give it a listen and tell us what you think.
We’re looking beyond fake news to examine how manipulation of narratives, rewriting of history and altering our memories is reshaping our world.
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