Russia’s Fake News Bill Is A Positive Step But Questions Of Enforcement Remain

Russia’s fake news bill discussed on 14 January seeks to impose administrative fines of $450-$750 for individuals and $6,000-$15,000 for legal entities that share “untruthful socially significant information disguised as authentic reports, which poses a threat to people’s lives and health and is fraught with mass violations of public order and security, disruption in the operation of crucial life support facilities, transport and social infrastructures or other grave consequences.” This vague catch-all description is necessary in order to encompass the many consequences that fake news – which the state wants to official define in this context as “untruthful socially significant information disguised as authentic reports” – can have.

Critics will predictably allege that it could be abused for so-called “censorship” purposes and the Western Mainstream Media will probably blow this bill all out of proportion, but it’s actually a prudent piece of legislation because it could counteract the strategic weaponization of fake news by state and non-state entities that either collaborate with individuals and legal entities or con them into sharing “untruthful socially significant information disguised as authentic reports” that could pose real threats to people and society. As a perfect example of this, it’s one thing to allege that an industrial accident or school shooting was an act of terrorism and another to disguise one’s personal views as “authentic reports”.

The average individual might not be able to differentiate between the various information products that they’re exposed to – which includes actual news, op-eds, analyses, conspiracy theories, and fake news, to name but the most prominent – and could therefore panic if an unverifiable opinion about a major event (or in other words, what could be classified as “untruthful socially significant information”) was passed off as officially confirmed information. Granted, there might be a fine line between how facts and opinions are presented and it’ll have to be worked out how the information purveyor can ensure that their audience has no ambiguity about which of the two is being shared, but the intention of the law itself is clear.

Russia’s Fake News Bill

What remains to be seen, however, is how it will be enforced in the realm of social media, especially on US-based platforms that are accessible in Russia. The question arises of whether Facebook, for instance, will be fined if a European user or organization shares fake news about a “socially significant” event in Russia with a European audience or only if they do it with a Russian one and in the Russian language. It’s also unclear how Russia will be alerted to this happening and whether Facebook will abide by the state’s request to take down violating posts. Whatever ends up happening, though, it’s clear that Russia is pioneering the way for all other states to follow in fighting fake news.

The post presented is the partial transcript of the CONTEXT COUNTDOWN radio program on Sputnik News, aired on Friday Jan 11, 2019:

DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution. 

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