“There are no sexy women” — this is how Chinese censors celebrated the Lunar New Year. In yet another ambitious attempt to control the behavior of one billion internet users, the country’s top cyberspace watchdog has launched a month-long campaign to rid the internet of ex-criminals, “sexy” women and overeating. The purpose of this spiritual cleansing is to eliminate “vulgar” and “unhealthy” tendencies, clean up the “online ecology” and prevent the spread of “bad culture”. The South China Morning Post has more details here.
RT France, Russia’s last official propaganda bastion in the West, has ceased operations. The French arm of the state-funded broadcaster was the only entity to survive an EU ban on Russian media within Europe shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last February. But the latest round of European Union sanctions against Russia has frozen RT France’s assets and forced them to close. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs promised a response. However, this ban does not mean that the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns in Europe will stop. Researchers in France to guess At least some of RT’s French-language content will survive through mirror sites and social media.
RT may shut down in Europe, but grows in Africa the network is actively recruiting journalists across the continent, offering “competitive packages” and the opportunity to join a company that offers a “genuine alternative to the Western perspective.” The quote is from an email shared with me by a Kenyan journalist RT is trying to recruit. I have also seen WhatsApp messages sent from RT’s headquarters in South Africa to journalists across the continent. It’s an impressive, comprehensive effort.
RT’s focus on Africa is also deeply strategic. See the visit program of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. This week he returns to Africa after enjoying a widely publicized visit to the continent in July, hosting “wonderful” talks by South African officials in Pretoria. The result of Russia’s close familiarity with the continent: South Africa will hold joint naval exercises with Russia and China on its shores next month. South Africa’s foreign minister dodged criticism of the drills on Monday, saying that conducting such drills with “friends” was the “natural course of relations.”
Russia’s focus on and support for improving relations with Africa is just one example of the global consequences of the war in Ukraine. There are more. We are gathering to discuss them with editors from Asia, Africa and Europe on 31 January at Coda’s first open editorial meeting of the year. Coda members receive an exclusive invitation to the editorial meeting. Become a Coda member today and receive an exclusive invite to Coda’s Editorial Session.
WE WATCH: CHINA at the UN
An interesting and possibly consequential conversation is taking place at the United Nations. It frighteningly combines two currents that we are fascinated by: disinformation and transnational repression.
Here’s Coda’s Isobel Cockerell:
For the past two weeks, a UN committee in Vienna has been grappling with the thorniest of concepts: what constitutes cybercrime, and how should countries fight and prosecute criminals? Each member country was allowed to contribute to the proposals discussed.
Chinese diplomats came up with a rant, arguing that every country should legislate and criminalize the spread of “false information that could result in serious social unrest.” In practice, in China today, this means jailing anyone who criticizes the Chinese Communist Party in the name of banning disinformation.
“The Chinese guest star suddenly appeared,” said Karine Bannelier, director of the Cybersecurity Institute, who has been following the proceedings and writing about them on LinkedIn. “This should worry human rights defenders.”
More than a dozen countries have taken action against China to overturn the proposal. Iran and Cape Verde were just next to China.
China’s proposal is a huge red flag and shows us that the CCP is trying to tighten its grip on free speech by claiming to fight fake news.
“This is another example of China trying to shape its global governance of digital data to reflect its domestic rules,” said Bryce Barros, China affairs analyst at the Alliance for Democracy. The proposal, he said, shows that China is trying to “model United Nations bodies globally in their internal control of digital information.”
He described how the proposal, if passed, could embolden governments with authoritarian tendencies to clamp down on free speech — simply by broadly defining it as disinformation.
- An Open Democracy exclusive on how the UK government helped Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigogine launch 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 about the February elections from Coda.
- And our own podcast on Audible. Undercurrents: Tech, Tyrants and Us brings you the stories of people from around the world whose lives have been turned upside down by the collision of digital technology with authoritarians. Listen and let us know what you think.