Social Media Is An Absolute Nightmare In These 5 Countries
The great/awful/revolutionary/regressive thing about the internet is that everyone supposedly gets to say their piece with little to no consequences. In practice, things don't always pan out that way. Especially when certain governments react to being called a crumbum on Twitter even worse than we do, and that's saying something. Authorities keep finding new and exciting ways to turn social media into a dystopian hellscape where your every word is carefully monitored. Or ... moreso than it already was, at any rate.
Russia Has Banned Memes That "Disrespect" Pretty Much Anything Russian
Russia has a long and proud history of being the butt of memes. But for its citizens, the days of freely creating, sharing, and enjoying images of shirtless Putin riding various animals are over, as the government can no longer tell the difference between dank memes and domestic terrorism.
In early 2019, the government passed a controversial law that makes it illegal for citizens to go online and disrespect Russian religion, the Russian government, or any Russian patriot who has bribed a judge or higher. And that includes posting memes. The government, like your oldfangled grandpa, believes them to be an inherently disrespectful way of communication. First-time meme criminals risk a fine of up to 100,000 rubles ($1,500). Post another image of the agriculture minister with the caption "Hello, fellow kids" and you risk jail time of 15 days.
But this law only codifies a long-running war by the government. In 2018, 23-year-old Maria Motuznaya was arrested, registered as an extremist, and faced six years of jail time for posting memes about Russian nuns. Likewise, Daniil Markin has been under government surveillance since 2017. His crime: depicting Jon Snow as Jesus. This landed him on an extremist and terrorist watch list.
That doesn't mean the Russian people are letting the government slide into their DMs to tell them what to do. The first-ever fine under this law was issued to a poster calling Putin "a fantastical fuck***head," and the country managed to come together and make "#Putinisafantasticalf***head" trend on Twitter. Maybe governments should spend less time criminalizing internet snark and more time researching the Streisand Effect.
The Philippine President Spent A Fortune Creating An Army Of Trolls
Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, is what you might call a loose cannon ... in that even a well-secured canon would've been a more sensible leader. Duterte is known for threatening random countries, making rape jokes, and waging a bloody war on drug users with the drive of someone who snorted 20 grams of coke. That has netted him quite a lot of negative press over the years. But Duterte is determined to set the record straight ... with an avalanche of fake news.
According to watchdog group Freedom House, more and more governments are paying internet trolls to manipulate social media in their favor. And nowhere is this more blatant than in the Philippines. In the run-up to his election in 2016, Duterte spent 10 million pesos (about $200,000) recruiting hundreds of professional basement dwellers to fake support for his violent policies and attack his opponents online. And when press confronted him with the scandal, Duterte proudly admitted to it, adding he would've spent even more money on them if he could have -- we imagine while blowing cigar smoke into their faces.
And trolling seems to pay well in the Philippines, with some former workers claiming they were given as much as 3,000 pesos per day (more than ten times the minimum wage). Then you have trolls like Mocha Uson, a C-list celebrity who maintained a blog which spread such blatant pro-Duterte lies that she's been dubbed the "queen of fake news." But since starting the blog, Uson has received several well-paying government appointments, including being put in charge of (wait for it) the president's social media. In the Philippines, trolling isn't just a job, but a solid career move.
Many Asians Risk Jail Time For Liking Or Sharing On Facebook
Some South Asian countries have such thin skin for catty Facebook comments that they make your local PTA group look downright stoic. In India, 21-year-old Renu Srinivasan was arrested for merely "liking" a Facebook comment from her friend Shaheen Dhada, made on a post which chided the government. Under India's short-lived but draconian Information and Technology Act, both women faced six-year prison sentences. Eventually they were allowed free on bail, scared straight into never again "promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will" with their wicked thumbs-up emojis.
Under Bangladesh's 2018 ICT Act, police could harass, arrest, and physically assault anyone even mildly critical of the Awami League. That does extend to social media, which rubber plantation worker Monirul Islam found out when he was arrested and imprisoned for three months without bail for liking and sharing a Facebook post. It's a good thing he didn't also follow.
That kind of iron-fisted Facebooking is nothing compared to the high-strung tyranny in Thailand, where they crack down hard on any perceived blasphemy against the royalty. So when a man only known as Wichai shared a few irreverent pics of the royal family on Facebook, the junta gave him 70 years in prison -- seven years for each count of hurting the king's feelings. But even evil Thai monarchies have hearts. They did reduce the sentence to 35 years when Wichai confessed.
Egypt Imprisoned A Man For Photoshopping Mickey Mouse Ears On The President
Brave acts of dissent don't always have to be pulled from a Michael Bay movie. Sometimes all it takes to be hero is drawing a silly mustache on a picture of a ruthless tyrant. Or a pair of Mickey Mouse ears.
Amr Nohan, an Egyptian law student and vocal critic of his country's government, decided to put a sprinkle of fun in his dissent when he photoshopped two cute Mickey Mouse ears on a pic of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. But Sisi is known for being thin-skinned, even for an authoritarian. Bad news for Nohan, who was at the time finishing up his compulsory military service. So his superior officers hacked into his Facebook, monitored his private conversations, and had him court-martialed.
The image wound up getting Nohan three years of prison time. Of course, this enraged the Egyptian people so much that they turned Sisi Mouse into an anti-establishment meme that's been going strong ever since. Man, it's like these laws never quite go how you want, huh?
China Is Selling Its Great Firewall To Other Countries
In the early 2000s, before the old folks in charge figured out how to do computers, China experienced a sort of revolution in freedom of expression thanks to the internet. But when President Xi Jinping came into power in 2012, he noticed that the internet was letting in way too many dangerous things called "ideas." So the Chinese government did what it does best: It built a wall to keep them out. A Great Firewall.
China's heavily regulated and monitored internet has been deemed a tool of suppression. Such a great tool, in fact, that Xi believes he should go global with it. So now China is "selling" their version of the internet to other nations who might also like some secret police checkpoints on the information superhighway.
For the low, low price of your citizenry's human rights, you can get the whole Chinanet package, which includes hosted cyber-seminars and even a Chinese telecommunication company that will come over and install all the fiddly surveillance gizmos and spyware. And it seems to be working like a charm. Dozens of nations, including Vietnam, Uganda, and most of the Middle East, have hopped aboard the train. According to Freedom House, roughly 50% of the world's internet users might soon be subject to Xi's brand of "digital authoritarianism." Which should be very worrying for lovers of both free expression and Winnie The Pooh.
No one will arrest you if you hit Christian Markle on Facebook.
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