Zambian bill underlines tension between lawmakers and social media groups

Zambian bill underlines tension between lawmakers and social media groups

Zambia has passed sweeping laws to criminalise cyber abuse. But local commentators have argued that the move is really a way of stifling free speech in the run-up to elections due in August – and it does appear to have uncomfortable echoes of state intervention in places like Russia, China, Uganda and Cambodia.

Zambia’s parliament passed a cyber abuse bill earlier this week. According to African press reports, the government insists that the laws the bill outlines are meant to protect citizens and children from cyber bullying.

However, opposition leaders, civil society organisations and an association of bloggers are wary about the new laws, arguing they will lead to internet shutdowns and invasions of internet users’ privacy. Something like this has already happened in Africa this year when, with two days to go until its presidential election, Uganda imposed a blanket ban on all social media and messaging apps.

However state intervention has taken other forms. As we reported recently, Cambodia is set to establish a National Internet Gateway (NIG) to direct and facilitate all of the nation’s local and international internet traffic.

These events come at a time when numerous governments and social media companies are trying to grapple with questions of rights versus laws – although some do not seem to be trying too hard.

For example, Reuters reports that Russia has threatened to slow down the speed of Twitter in retaliation for its alleged failure to remove banned content. Indeed, it has threatened a total block if the platform does not comply with demands relating to Twitter’s alleged failing to delete posts the government claims illegally urged children to take part in anti-Kremlin protests.

The Chinese market is an even trickier proposition. The careers-focused LinkedIn site has had a Chinese-language presence since 2014, when it decided to expand by agreeing to stick to strict censorship laws. It has over 50 million users in the country through a local joint venture. However, the Microsoft-owned social network has now halted new member sign-ups for its service in China while it reviews its compliance with local laws.

Many other social media groups have decided not to comply with China’s laws and have had their access to the market blocked.

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