See More on Facebook

Opinion

A word against regulation

Regulation of social media, like regulation of the press, should not be attempted less it offer another way for despots to control their population.


Written by

Updated: October 29, 2018

When the printing press first began spreading throughout Europe in the 15thand 16thcenturies, it brought with it a revolution in and democratization of ideas. Scripture and scientific text were spread rapidly and was readily accessible to the masses for the first time. The church’s role as the gatekeepers and purveyors of information lessened with the advent of new technology.

Upheaval was not far behind and the printing press played a central role in the reformation led by Martin Luther and the split of the Catholic Church. At this time, the leadership of the church tried to suppress the dissemination of these ideas and the technology which allowed them to flourish.

But their attempts were in vain and the world entered a new epoch, one which eventually gave birth to the renaissance and more importantly, the enlightenment. The ideas which we now take for granted, freedom of religion, of speech, and the right to liberty had its beginnings in a technological revolution.

Each time that there has been scientific progress which threatened the status quo of the traditional gatekeepers, there have been attempts by the gatekeepers or the government to lessen the effects of the technology. These attempts have usually been in vain and against the tides of ‘progress.’

Consider the widespread coverage of the Vietnam War by US television networks. For the first time, armed conflict was brought into the living rooms of the average household. The pictures and videos of wounded and dying soldiers turned the tide of public sentiment against the Nixon administration and prolonged prosecution of the war. Of course, both Nixon and his National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger tried to control the spread and use of these images but to no avail.

The modern battlefield 

Today, social media has become the new technology and new battleground that threatens the status quo and the traditional gatekeepers of information. Widespread access to the internet has leveled the playing field in terms of who gets to provide information, in what context, and for whom. Not only are there no more gatekeepers of information, there is no more gate.

Obviously, some actors have taken advantage of this situation for their own ends. Whether it is fake news farms capitalizing on ad revenue, or foreign influencers using social media to affect the outcome of political situations overseas, social media has engendered these developments.

I was privileged enough to attend a recent Asia Europe Foundation (ASEF) meeting in Brussels where discussions were had over how to best confront these challenges without infringing on freedom of speech.

Many good ideas were put forward. Fact checking, investing in media literacy and continued good traditional journalism are all important endeavors that can keep the deluge of social media news in check.

To regulate or not 

One issue that repeatedly came up was whether governments should attempt to regulate the social media space, and many people argued passionately that they should. After all, social media influencers and fake news have given rise to the administration of Donald Trump, been used to proliferate rumors leading to a genocide in Myanmar, seen a human rights catastrophe in the Philippines, and continues to be a disruptive influence on European Union (EU) politics.

The argument was put forth that in the EU, these far-right parties, advocating a return to 1930s politics, were given too much space to spread their hateful views online. The governments of the EU could do so much to curb their influence by regulating hate speech and fake news in these online forums.

While I could see the merits of their arguments, I do not believe that such legislation would translate well to Asia and the developing world. While the journalists and politicians of Europe may have altruistic notions at heart, the people who inhabit my area of the world have seen too often where government regulations go. Any legislation introduced by the EU would provide the necessary pretext for their introduction in this area of the world.

I do not disagree that fake news and social media have become problematic in my own backyard but I fear the types of legislation that might be introduced to monitor and restrict those spaces. I fear that eventually these laws that were meant to clamp down on fake news would eventually be abused to perpetuate the rule of despots and dictators.

We are only a generation removed from Marcos, Pol Pot, Suharto, Mao Zedong and others. The governments of this part of the world are still young, and in the case of my own country, Thailand – still totalitarian. The institutions that democracy should ideally stand on are not yet in place to withstand the legal ramifications of such legislature.

If the EU took a leadership position in calling for regulation, these ‘Third World despots’ (forgive my Western education) would point to their example and justify introducing their own. Even without the EU, countries like Bangladesh, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand have in place or are in the process of introducing harmful media regulations that human rights group say are aimed at curbing criticism and dissent.

One only has to look at the arrest of the two Reuters journalists in Myanmar under an ancient law leftover from the British Raj to know the destructive potential of misplaced legislation. Furthermore, such legislation to curb technology will undoubtedly fail, just ask Nixon and the Catholic Church. Instead of wasting time and giving excuses to despots, the effort should be to educate, to promote good journalism, and to shore up the values that started 600 years ago in Gutenberg’s back room.

The Asian Writers’ Circle is a series of columns on global affairs written by top editors and writers from members of the Asia News Network and published in newspapers, websites and social media platforms across the region.



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Cod Satrusayang
About the Author: Cod Satrusayang is the Managing Editor at Asia News Network.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Opinion

‘No rush’ on NK denuclearization, Trump says

Trump and Kim are due to meet in Vietnam at the end of this month. US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that he had no strict timeline for North Korea’s ultimate denuclearization as negotiators from the two countries head to Vietnam for last-minute talks ahead of a second summit next week. “I’m in no rush. There’s no testing. As long as there is no testing, I’m in no rush,” Trump told reporters at the White House after a phone conversation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “I’d just like to see, ultimately, denuclearization of North Korea,” he said. The US president made similar remarks last week, in an apparen


By The Korea Herald
February 21, 2019

Opinion

Imran Khan responds to Indian accusations after attack

Pakistan will address actionable evidence if shared by Delhi, PM Khan tells India after Pulwama attack. In a video message, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Tuesday said Islamabad will take action if Delhi shares any actionable evidence concerning last week’s suicide bombing in occupied Kashmir’s Pulwama area which had targeted Indian paramilitary soldiers. While offering cooperation and another chance at a dialogue over the Kashmir issue, the premier also warned India against any act of aggression, saying Pakistan will not hesitate in retaliating to a provocation. However, he made it clear that he hopes better sense will prevail. The premier explained he


By Dawn
February 20, 2019

Opinion

Opinion: Revenge inadequate in Kashmir attack

The government refuses to accept that its stubborn approach fertilises the soil for terror. First light on Friday virtually shut the window on an immediate strike to counter the outrage at Pulwama, so now there will be the routine high-level security meetings, visits to the site where a car bomb took the lives of some 40 CRPF personnel, etc, and hopefully the think-tank on national security will formulate and implement a strategy that will go beyond avenging the deaths ~ counting bodies is a zero-sum game. For the national mood demands that Pakistan, the promoter and protector of terrorist outfits, is made to pay a price that truly hurts. Political rhetoric has lost its credibility, as have diplomatic sweet-nothings: India has bled enough. At the same time it remains a matter for regret that despite frequent terror attacks th


By The Statesman
February 18, 2019

Opinion

Attempts to isolate

Would a re-elected Modi rethink his Pakistan policies. Imran Khan and the military leadership have been expressing a desire for improved relations with India. But India is unlikely to respond anytime soon. And the reasons go beyond its upcoming elections. I recall here a private briefing some of us South Asia hands in Washington got from a close adviser of Narendra Modi soon after he took office as prime minister. Unaware of my identity, he spoke of Pakistan with contempt. “We are going to treat Pakistan as if it were on the other side of a high wall,” he said. Four years on, the adviser is there as is India’s Pakistan policy. How has the policy endured for so long? The search for the answer opens up a vast landscape of policy, politics and ideology in India. Beginning in 1991, India has been on a steady march to foster external relations conducive


By Dawn
February 15, 2019

Opinion

Press freedom is deteriorating in Asia, elections may offer a reset button

With many countries going to polls this year, the electorate across Asia have a chance to turn around a worrying press freedom situation. Maria Ressa’s arrest on Wednesday was the latest in a string of blatant attacks on the freedom of the press in Southeast Asia. For those that don’t know, Ressa is an award-winning journalist and CEO of the news website the Rappler. Her coverage of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s extra-judicial war on drugs has received recognition far beyond her borders and as such, she is seen as a direct threat to the government. The latest arrest, made without prior warning, stemmed from a libel case where the complaint was filed five years after the initial story was published. Numerous press alliances, including the Asia News Network, have condemned the arrest as a blatant attack on freedom of the press. As the Philippines chapter of the Centre for Media Freedom and


By Cod Satrusayang
February 15, 2019

Opinion

200 Myanmar Buddhist flee violence into Bangladesh

The refugees were fleeing from clashes between the central government and a separatist group. Around 200 Buddhists from Myanmar’s Chin state crossed into a remote hilly region of Bandarban’s Ruma on Monday following intensified fighting between Myanmar army and rebel group Arakan Army, officials said. Shamsul Alam, upazila nirbahi officer in Ruma upazila, said members of around 40 Myanmar families took shelter in Cheih Kaying Para under Remakree Prangsha union. The fresh arrival of Myanmar nationals takes place at a time when Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the burden of over a million Rohingya Muslims. Of them, some 750,000 have taken shelter in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar since August 2017 following a military crackdown in Rakhine. Some 1,300 Rohingyas recently fled to the camps from India after allegedly facing abuses and threats in the neighbouring country. Several do


By Daily Star
February 8, 2019