Week in Review: May 27, 2015

by Rebekah Heacock Jones

China: Communist party recruiting up millions of online "youth civilization volunteers"

According to recently leaked emails, the Shanghai League of Communist Youth is attempting to recruit up to 18 million of its members to post pro-regime content on Weibo and WeChat. China has long engaged in the dissemination of online propaganda, most notably through its "50 Cent Party." Some Chinese netizens are arguing that the online civilization volunteers are "more harmful," however, because they are spreading the Communist Party's message voluntarily, rather than as paid workers.

Iran: New local messaging app gives government access to all conversations

A new messaging app developed by Iran's Basij Militia is trying to pull users away from Viber and WhatsApp. The app, named "Salam," is based on servers owned by the militia, meaning all conversations that take place through it will be accessible by both the Basij and by other state intelligence agents. Analysts see the app as part of the country's ongoing effort to develop a "National Internet."

Malawi: New Internet tax could threaten free speech

Malawi's minister of Finance, Economic Planning, and Development recently announced that, starting later this year, the government will levy a 10 percent tax on mobile messaging and data services. Malawians are outraged, noting that the cost of mobile and Internet services in Malawi is already among the highest in the world and expressing concerns that the tax will prevent them from accessing key services like mobile banking and mobile money transfers, which benefit mainly rural populations. Analysts and opposition politicians have also criticized the tax as a way for the government to prevent the free flow of information by pricing citizens out of Internet service.

Russia: Gov't threatens to block Facebook, Twitter, and Google

Russian federal media, Internet, and telecom agency Roskomnadzor sent letters to Facebook, Twitter, and Google this month warning them to comply with Russian laws mandating that the companies take down content related to protest activity and hand over data about bloggers with more than 3000 readers per day. The letters noted that failure to comply could result in the wholesale blocking of the three services. Russian Internet regulations have become increasingly restrictive over the past several years; for an overview of recent legislation, see our November 2014 report, "The Tightening Web of Russian Internet Regulation."

South Africa: Film and Publication Board proposal to regulate online content comes under fire

South Africa's Film and Publication Board (FPB) issued a new set of draft regulations for online content in March 2015. The regulations are intended, in part, to "protect children from exposure to disturbing and harmful material and from premature exposure to adult material." The FPB opened a 90 day comment period on the draft, which will require online intermediaries to filter illegal content or face penalties. As the comment period draws to a close, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has published a blog post calling the regulations the "Africa's worst new Internet censorship law." Particularly worrying, according to the EFF, is the provision giving the FPB "the power to order an administrator of any online platform to take down any content that the Board may deem to be potentially harmful and disturbing to children of certain ages."

The Internet Monitor Week in Review is a weekly round-up of news about Internet content controls and online activity around the world.