Egypt’s new law targets social media, journalists for ‘fake news’

Twitter was widely credited with helping bring about the Arab Spring, a series of political protests in the Middle East and North Africa that began in 2010. Shown here: protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Carlos Cazalis/Corbis

In Egypt, a country known to be hostile toward free speech, a new law will make high-profile Facebook and Twitter users subject to prosecution for publishing news deemed to be false.

Egypt’s parliament passed a law Monday that lets the state block social media users and penalize journalists for publishing fake news, according to Reuters. Accounts and blogs with more than 5,000 followers on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter will reportedly be considered media outlets and subject to prosecution for publishing news judged to be fake or material deemed to be incitement to break the law.

The law will be supervised by Egypt’s Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media, which is led an official appointed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Reuters reported. The council will take action against violations.

The Consulate General of Egypt in New York didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move will legalize the government’s widely criticized actions of censorship and retaliation. The Egyptian government blocked more than 400 websites last year, including those of news outlets and human rights organizations, according to data collected by Freedom House. A number of Egyptian Facebook users were reportedly arrested for spreading fake news, and activists and journalists have also reportedly been arrested and thrown into prison.

The new law will also prohibit the establishment of websites without a license from the Supreme Council and will let the council suspend or block websites, or fine the editors, reported Reuters. It will also restrict journalists to filming only in government permitted areas.

The law is set to take effect after the president ratifies it.

“Right when we think the Egyptian government can’t make a greater mockery of justice, they find a way,” said Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program director at Committee to Protect Journalists, during a phone interview. He said that this new law is made to justify the detention of journalists.

Mansour also said that CPJ counted 11 journalists still detained in Egypt this year based on charges of spreading false news. 20 were detained last year, though several have been released. 

“These journalists didn’t commit any crimes,” he said.

In regard to whether the law will affect social media platforms, Twitter declined to comment. Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

First published on July 17, 12:14 p.m. PT.

Updates, 12:38 p.m. PT: Adds Sherif Mansour interview.

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