The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF virtual intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: I think we are good to go. We have seen the great video. Everyone, welcome. I'm hoping that this round table creates alliances and networks and gives us at least some way of coming together to tackle just a very small problem which is about free speech and expression. It is interestingly titled about the error which many of us have seen when we try to actually reach a website, a broken link and then we see it is not found.
And unfortunately, that has become the state of affairs in the countries we live in. Right now we are mostly concentrating on the majority of the global south and southeast Asia.
This is not supposed to be a panel, but a roundtable discussion so I urge you all to turn on your videos, join in. I think after two years of the pandemic everybody is pretty forgiving about wherever your settings are from wherever you are joining in right now.
Please don't hesitate. We do have at least speakers here in order to initiate us into discussions. What we will do is that I will introduce a little bit here and then each of the speakers will give us an opening statement for two minutes about what is happening in their regions. And that will set the stage for further discussion.
I would -- we have a few people joining in, trickling in and I think we are having some technical difficulties. But what would be a tech conference without technical difficulties? So we need to check that box obviously.
So with not much further ado, a very warm welcome. We have with us Kris, who is a politic lecturer and scientist at University of Amsterdam, amongst other things. We have Oliver Spencer who is an advisor to Free Expression Myanmar. We do not have Nighat Dad, he's the founder of the Iraq Pakistan because of a last-minute conflict of being -- appearing on too many sessions, I believe. Like all of you, a lot in demand.
We have Radhika Jhalani who is a counselor and manages the free speech tracker at the Law Center India and we have the legal director of the law center, Prasanth Sugathan. My names is Mishi Choudhary. I am a lawyer and long, long time ago, I was relevant when I started the Software Freedom Center India and now it is run by much more competent people.
So if you like me are a fan of the Simpsons you may have seen that a Simpson episode recently on censorship and then it vanished in Hong Kong. It was about government's effort to suppress. And the comments, just forget the sense of irony. We talk about censorship and then the episode just vanishes, further underscoring the point everyone is making.
Human Rights Watch reported that at least 83 governments worldwide used the COVID-19 pandemic to justify violating the exercise of free speech and expression as well as peaceful assembly.
Authorities have attacked, detained, prosecuted, and in some cases killed critics also. They have broken up peaceful protests or in some cases allowed them to continue for longer than a year and then taken back legislation. And they have closed media outlets. They have started the usual harassment through tax as well as enforcement of arbitrary cases and enacted vague laws criminalizing speech that they claim threatens public health.
The victims have included journalists, activists, healthcare workers, political opposition groups and anyone who criticized the government's response to the pandemic. Or this is just a great excuse to go for them.
Over 13,000 hours of internet shutdowns in India were reported in 2019-2020. The country of my birth is the shutdown capital of the world. Not anything that we are very much proud of. Thereafter at least -- other than that what we are also watching is that fueled by explosion the adoption of digital technologies across southeast Asia.
The digital space has become a new battleground for the contestation of these norms which we call essential to democracy. These technologies and social media platforms represent not only economic growth as well as democratization of free speech and expression but also a means through which regimes, both democratic as well as authoritarian can exercise control with increasingly robust tools available at their disposal to impose coercive measures.
If we watch what happened in India or we see Viet Nam's cybersecurity law, or in Thailand and Myanmar, any of these, many of the governments will be claiming ostensibly to solve hate speech and misinformation.
Whether it is health information or other kind of misinformation and then come down strongly over exercise of democratic rights. So here we are trying to just figure it out what is exactly happening in various regions. What are the new battle lines? How can we all come together. And is there at least some scope in having an alliance which is -- which works across Asia and then exercise our power not only against governments but also the companies.
Because unless things happen in the U.S. or European Union, it seems that the companies will not pay much attention and not much will happen in our part of the world.
So with that, I'm going to start with Oliver today. Oliver, if you could just tell us in two minutes a brief overview about what is happening, what you think is happening in your part of where you work and how free speech and expression are being impacted.
>> OLIVER SPENCER: Sure, thanks very much. I hope you can hear me fine. I just want to talk for the two minutes about a specific example of how freedom of expression is limited, and that is in regards to internet shutdowns which is something that we all work on quite a lot.
In Myanmar, the then government on the 21st of June 2019 started an internet shutdown which affected 1.4 million people. A year later, 2G was restored there and with 3G and 4G still blocked. At that point it was until the 31st of March 2021. But then we obviously in Myanmar had the coup on the first of February of this year.
And over those following weeks, a series of internet shutdowns took place which, of course, are fairly absolute restrictions on freedom of expression and the reversing access to information. When we got to the 15th of March this year, we had a total mobile shutdown of all data across the country. So that is again a further limitation on freedom of expression and access to information.
The military turned it back on at the end of May but using a whitelisting system. So I just wanted to summarize that that kind of situation in Myanmar, what does it tell us about the situation of freedom of expression?
In this case what we are seeing is how digital is used by the authorities to restrict freedom of expression in a very absolute maximum kind of way.
The authorities in these kind of cases may claim that certain restrictions are temporary and issue specific, but actually what we found is that these kinds of shutdowns and limitations on freedom of expression and access to information, they may be temporary in nature, but they create the experience, the technical capacity, the political cover, public acceptance for the authorities to take these kind of attacks on freedom of expression and access to information.
Until now, we always were saying that some -- the Myanmar authorities and the way that they look to freedom of expression they very much copied the Maldives government in India. They obviously have similar legal backgrounds, legal frameworks created by the British colonialists.
But now what we are seeing in in Myanmar since the coup, is that actually they're sort of surpassed the Indian model and are now very much looking at the Chinese North Korean model. What we can see from this is that the temporary actions of internet shutdown lead to something much worse and they establish an acceptance of limitations on freedom of expression and access to information.
And it sort of feeds into the slippery slope doctrine so that governments that may be protecting you in particular countries around the world right now, they are creating the frameworks and the experiences and the capabilities to be able to heavily restrict freedom of expression. And, you know, in 10 years' time we have already seen from Balsanara, Maldives Ertuan, etc, what can happen when you get a change of government and how the systems that they put in place can seriously restrict freedom of expression going forward. Thanks.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Thank you, Oliver. Bad ideas have a way of traveling. And the governments love to copy the bad ideas. And from a democratic government to an authoritarian one. Let's move on to now Kris. And Kris, your opening statement, please.
>> KRIS RUIJGROK: Hello, everyone. So my name is Kris Ruijgrok. I'm a political scientist from Amsterdam, as Mishi told you. I study how digital technologies shape and are shaped by authoritarian forms of governments.
In 2020, I studied the politics behind India's internet shutdowns, and I will briefly make an opening statement about the shutdowns and how in my view they affect freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
As you know, and as Mishi already told you, India holds the record for issuing the highest number of internet shutdowns worldwide. And for my interviews in my research, I asked a dozen of Indian officials who are responsible for issuing the Indian shutdowns on why so many shutdowns in India are issued. So I basically asked the people that literally press the kill switch why they think it is necessary to do that so often.
Now when I asked this question, I received the same answer throughout. Namely, that the internet shutdowns are unfortunately sometimes necessary because social media is often abused for spreading rumors and hate speech that could foster communal tensions in India and probably violence.
Now, the shutdowns in my view are not only a gross violation of Indian citizen civil rights including freedom of expression and their freedom to access information, but I believe that they also aim to solve a problem; namely, the social media fueled communal tensions that the Indian government has created itself.
So the Hindu Nationalist BJP government of India has in my view over the past years established a highly polarized political climate wherein Indian Muslims are constantly framed as this internal security threat to India's Hindu majority as second-class citizens whose loyalty to the Indian State can never be trusted. And last, but not least, as sympathizers of Jihadi terrorism.
So in the process of doing so, the Indian government has contributed to the perfect environment actually for online hate speech and inciting messages to thrive.
The internet shutdowns are therefore similar to firefighters who first set the building on fire and then start to extinguish the fire with such brute force that the building collapses.
They are an extremely blunt and very harmful government response to the problem that the government has helped to emerge in the first place. So that's my opening statement.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Okay. A lot of attention on India and internet shutdowns, but Kris also makes the point that the rise of internet access there are online hate and false rumors have become also the drivers of domestic conflict in the region.
And sometimes because no matter who the source of this information is, it just becomes necessary in order to shut down communications to control things on the ground.
Ahead of the Biden Democracy Summit, I know those of you who follow online, you are learning there are different ways democracy can be defined. And words don't mean much, I think we are all now trying to figure it out what is moving here. I will move to Radhika for your opening statement.
>> RADHIKA JHALANI: Hi, so my name is Radhika. I work on internet shutdowns and free speech at the Freedom Law Center in India. We are based out of Delhi and recently started something called the free speech tracker through which we are trying to figure out the free speech violations that are happening across the country.
As according to Mishi and Kris, India is leading the world in terms of internet shutdowns. To give you a number, we had 551 shutdowns recorded through 2021. 44 of those have happened in the year 2021 and most of them are in Krishna.
So to give you a couple of reasons why -- I mean the reasons why there have been such curbs in speech. One is because authorities feel like cheating in exams causes law and order situation and that is why they shut down the internet and then there are other excuses as communal riot and other things.
One of the reasons why to talk about why internet shutdowns are so bad is on women and marginalized communities. So to understand it in that context, women in marginalized communities largely depend on internet to be able to express what little space that they have in a community like India.
Shutting down internet, imposing restrictions on free speech, online harassment which is also a form of restricting speech on the internet, restricting speech in general, ends up impacting rights or not.
Now since the pandemic has happened, education has moved online. As an organization which conducts digital technology training and trying to train marginalized women and children across, we hear a lot that they face a lot of online harassment in this space which restricts them from participating anywhere.
And this is also a form of, you know, restricting speech. And there I mean there doesn't seem to be any solutions that are coming up from the authorities through even the topic of understanding how internet shutdowns or any other online harassment on the internet is impacting women in marginalized communities. It's largely ignored by Civil Societies. So that's something that digital revolution I believe is going to help. And that is my opening statement.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: All right. I wonder why we think that India puts so much emphasis on that. We have a lot of attendees also who are in person. Thank you for joining us as well.
I think it is also important to point out that it is a very large market and also a democracy. A large democracy open to the rest of the world, unlike our neighbors across the Himalayas where they have their own companies and the large platform companies are not allowed inside.
So that does have a bearing about a large market what decisions will it take. And in the democratic form what it actually does to regulate that kind of speech is something which is looked upon by several other countries.
If good ideas get copied very fast, which actually we would like to believe, but the record states that bad ideas are the ones which are multiplying at that state. Let's hope that that doesn't happen. So over to Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director of Software Law Center India.
>> PRASANTH SUGATHAN: Thanks, Mishi, and thanks everyone for joining the session. Mishi was focusing on the word democracy in her opening statement, and we had other speakers also talking about democracy. India prides itself in calling it the world's largest democracy.
Unfortunately, if you look a series of events in the recent years, they are slowly sliding towards I would say the part of more of an autocratic. That definitely is not good news, especially if -- I mean other than the government talks a lot about a digital India and using digital platforms and having various means for the people to reach out about using this new platform.
But at the rate regulations have been applied in India, it definitely is not in the right direction. Those are in the manner which are affecting the rights of people.
We have seen internet shutdowns like the way that Kris and Radhika mentioned that have website blocking incidents, events where various applications and web apps, mobile apps were banned. Then we had a lot of instances where social media, Twitter handles, Facebook accounts were suspended, surveillance across the board. And also regulations where OTT platforms and even independent publications, data publications being regulated and in some ways, instances even banned.
Let me start with an example of website blocking. There was a draft law which was being discussed related to the environment impact. And these environment groups who were trying to petition the government to try to raise awareness of these laws and they had come up with various websites. And suddenly these websites are disappearing one by one. That is when we found that these were really being blocked by the government.
And there are specific tools for blocking of websites. But in this case definitely these websites were not doing anything which would affect the security of the nation, security of the nation, or its friendly relations with other countries. These are the reasons for which websites can be blocked.
But yes, this is only a case of dissent, something against the policies of the government and this website has been blocked.
And then there were also rules introduced by the government which had affected the farmers and there were farmer protests across the country. And suddenly you find that Twitter handles which were talking about these protests on Facebook accounts, these were getting blocked.
And there were internet shutdowns which Kris talked about, and Radhika talked about. And these were not just internet shutdowns, but we also saw these accounts, social media accounts getting blocked. Then there were also instances where platforms like Netflix and Prime, there were like shows which were -- I mean if you look at India, movies -- when it comes to movies we have something called the censor board which is a board for film certification which is often called the censor board where their main job is censoring movies.
It's not a case of film certification classifying the movies into various categories, it's mostly they're telling the filmmakers that you cannot have these in the movie and then censored them. But when it came to ODV platforms, at least the viewers could watch movies the way they wanted. And that was the choice which suddenly the Indian public enjoyed with the ODV platforms like Netflix and Prime.
Suddenly, there were a lot of forces, a lot of people who were not very happy with this. An then we had the government who also wanted some kind of control over these platforms.
So across the board we have seen controls being exercised over social media, over these platforms like OTT and even with publications, independent digital publications who are competing with the regular news outlets and who were giving more of independent news not affected by view to the family.
So that is what is happening unfortunately in India. I'm looking forward to discussing it with others from the region and from across the world and see if we can form alliances, coalitions who will take the discussion forward. Thank you.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Thank you. Sorry for that dampener. But for people who work on these issues and activists, I think the work never stops.
So, unfortunately, this is another unique way where we love the new form of empowerment which digital modes of expression have now given us. The democratization, the way to speak anything, the way to consume content from all across the world irrespective of what our law says. And also the ability of independent news media outlets to be able to now at a very minimal cost to be able to speak to the world and talk about these things.
But when this meets also the traditional forms where the growth of internet use often through mobile phones in our regions because we have leapfrogged back has provided new tools to inspire and coordinate hatred and conflict.
What do we do here? I think last fall the French President Emmanuel Macron publicly criticized Muslim extremism and defended the French citizen's right to caricature. Peace be upon him, Prophet Muhammad, on the grounds of free speech and expression.
5,000 miles away in a small Bangladeshi village, a local school principal praised the French President's condemnation of religious extremism on Facebook. That screenshot was spread around his village and the false claim that he supported depictions of Prophet Muhammad which is not what he said. This resulted in a group vandalizing and burning several homes of a different religion.
Now I urge all of you to jump in, please turn on your videos or give us at least some sign that you want to speak in or just unmute yourself to at least examine briefly how the issues in the western world are understood very differently than the what is happening in our region. Because a lot of times the tendency is to just copy the solutions also. What may work in a system like the European Union may not work in other parts of the world.
So We can examine the differences little. Please feel free to jump in. Or otherwise we will go to the panelists to examine this further.
Kris, perhaps why don't we start with you. I see one video turned on, Hayhurst's video. And if I'm butchering the pronunciation of your name, just shout it out and I will correct myself and learn. But let's start with Kris.
>> KRIS RUIJGROK: So can you repeat your question once more, Mishi.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: My question is mostly that as I said certain things which may work in the western democracies and other parts of the world and may not work in southeast Asia. If we can go further and examine the differences between what is happening.
>> KRIS RUIJGROK: Right. So I think that governments all around the world both in like western democracies as well as governments in the global south whether they are democratic, or authoritarian are trying to find a way to better govern social media platforms and limit their immense powers.
I believe in the latest Freedom House report they've looked at 70 countries and 48 of those countries have come up in the previous year with legislation aiming at regulating large tech companies.
The question for me is what the attempts mean for the freedom of expression and the free flow of information in cyberspace and whether these legislation can hold platforms accountable without limiting citizens' civil rights, okay.
And I think that the new laws that have been created and have been adopted in India over the past year are not so much a step in the right direction.
For instance, the government basically wants to become the ultimate arbiter of what is allowed on social media platforms and what is perceived as hate speech and as content that has no place on large social media platforms which could ultimately have a large chilling effect on the freedom of speech.
So I think that recent discussions that have been ongoing in Europe for the past years on how large social media platforms is something that might be able to be transferred to other parts of the world and which is that what really should be key is to demand full transparency of large social media companies in how they handle hate speech and possible harmful content and demand transparency on how they go viral and others not.
So rather than asking social media companies to comply to governments, whether democratic or authoritarian, I think the best more fruitful approach that might work in both contexts would be to go for full transparency rather than to drive for government control over social media companies.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Great. I'm going to go to -- I don't know whether it -- oh, Colin, yes.
>> COLIN HAYHURST: Hi, yes, thanks, nice to join the conversation. I'm not sure this is in context, but I guess a follow on from the previous question. I guess I should say I'm based in the UK. We run an international search engine that's used in every country, but we're based in the UK. So it's kind of hard to keep up with the regulations that are coming. The UK is the side I know best.
You know, one of the things -- it's actually the online safety bill here is the big issue here. And there it is the opposite where they will basically ask companies like us and social media companies to actually police the internet and decide what to take down.
The concern is, too, firstly they are proposing to require is to act on content which is -- what's termed as awful but lawful. So it's not illegal but it is awful but lawful. There's big penalties. So it's -- I can't remember, I think it is 10% of world revenue or $18 million, whichever is the bigger. $18 million would wipe us out.
And but in any case, I think for all companies this is going to inevitably lead towards much more censorship. So you know, if I have any doubts about whether something is, you know, is an issue or not, you know, I'm going to be tempted to take it down. Otherwise our company is wiped out.
And the last thing I want to state, and maybe I have been worried about the fact that if the UK brings in this bill and they are absolutely determined to do this, and they were rushing it through. Then I have been saying -- because I speak to the government over here, you know, this is going to spread to other countries. You know, India may -- maybe India is not a good example, obviously you're ahead of the game there.
But other countries will say well, the UK is doing this so let's do it, too. You know, I'm concerned about this -- the UK is very proud of saying we're taking a world-leading bill here and I think other people are going to use it as an excuse to do similar things.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Thank you. Thank you for bringing that perspective because I think when just taking digs on big tech have become such an important part on politicians who tend to conduct themself these days, they just forget what these laws mean for a lot of other players.
And in their zeal to conduct public theater with CEOs of large American platforms, they are just not paying enough attention about how other players will react. And you are absolutely right when it comes to the existence of your business and the inability to have large legal teams then you will err on the side of caution.
I think I'm getting told that I believe Shilongo wants to intervene. I can't see your hand, but I have been at least flagged. If you want to intervene, please go ahead. Shilongo? Okay, jump in whenever you want to.
I will move on to Oliver and hear from him about this.
>> OLIVER SPENCER: Thanks. Sorry, it's a bit funny because you're asking three White men about non-Western democracies. I would say -- so obviously we've got a group of people sitting there Poland, I myself am half Polish. And I think what they are seeing there in Poland and perhaps we can hear from them on the ground is similar to what we have seen in India, similar to what we've seen in Myanmar, and it is about the absence of competing sources of power.
Western democracies tend to, you know, the nature of them being western democracies is they tend to have stronger judiciaries, stronger parliaments, stronger media laws that protect free media and also stronger public support for rules-based systems.
In countries like Poland, where the law and justice party is stripping them away daily, in countries like India and Myanmar to the extreme, what we are seeing is that the main difference is that there is a real absence of those competing sources of power which would prevent some of the excesses. That doesn't mean the western democracies aren't trying to do that, but at least there are other competing powers that try and prevent them from getting away with it so easily.
But yeah, happy to hear more from others.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Great. Let's take that criticism and move to Radhika who can tell us about what are the major differences we see between the western democracies and the situations that prevail in our part of the world.
>> RADHIKA JHALANI: Thanks for that, Mishi. There is a vast difference between the western and global north and global south. One of the biggest reasons is poverty. There is so much poverty, there's so much culture wars that it is difficult for countries like India and Myanmar to just stand back to the government.
I mean So many internet issues that come up prior. There is a very famous thing that we say here that a person who has to care about his -- has to care about his food and basic housing will not care about free speech. And that is a major problem that these countries have. And that is what ends up in -- and the difference in the fighting back that happens across.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: What about -- India does have a constitution and it does have three major orders of the government which are supposed to create those checks and balances.
So, Radhika, if you could spend a little more time about it is not just as Oliver rightly said but there are supposed to be these competing sources of power. And India does have that. So why do we still say that the same problem exists in the country like India which perhaps exists in some other parts where -- if Myanmar is the way to look at, we are seeing them now forcing democratically elected leaders out.
But India does have a robust system which it has built over 70 years. Why is India also lumped together with all these other countries?
>> RADHIKA JHALANI: That's because India's a relatively new democracy. We still have ecosystems as compared to the western democracies. We still have a lot of cultural wars that we are fighting which render the three organs of the democracy very weak. We still hear a lot about corruption. We still hear a lot about like day-to-day world problems. The one way that these fights are taken up are through civil society organizations.
But I think we are all aware of the fact that civil society organizations in the global, it is people who are sitting in the western democracies who fund these organizations in the global south, in countries like India and Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, without really understanding the root causes of certain things. The civil societies are weak, there's a major lack of awareness because if a country in itself has a lower level of literacy, has a lower level of education, you know, to find people who would do this work is also like substantially less.
And that's one of the reasons why, you know. And India specifically, India has a lot of internal problems that are going on. We have authoritarian regime, we have a government which wants to, you know, which wants to have a lot of power.
And that is what is weaking the system. And because it is a relatively new democracy the mechanism to fight back is also not developed in a way that it is there in the western democracies. Because again, it's people who fight, it's people who fight against these things.
>> RADHIKA JHALANI: I'm going to move on to Prasanth. I'm going to ask a similar question but in the context of when in the western world there is a whistle blower, for instance tells, oh, this is what's going on in the companies. Everyone comes, even the nonprofit organizations oh, my God, you can't kill Section 230, you can't do anything about it, the moment you will touch it somehow every minority will lose how to exist in the world.
Are things actually that Black and White in the global south?
>> PRASANTH SUGATHAN: I think we are past that stage when we could give these intermediaries a complete immunity as to what were there on their platforms. These are no longer something like, let's say, a blogger where you just post your material and then they didn't play any role at all.
Facebook decides -- yes, you and I may be posting something on Facebook or Twitter, but what each person gets to read is decided by these algorithms. What is taken down is often decided by algorithms. And also as we are seeing from the various Facebook leaks, even in cases where Facebook could have exercised some kind of control or taken down content when there definitely was a problem as like what happened in Myanmar. They refused to act on that.
There were people from their own organization who flagged the issue and they refused to act on it. In such scenario, can we really say that they can enjoy their safe harbor protection from any liability whatsoever? I think we are past that stage. They cannot any longer claim that.
Yes, I do understand that bill there is a discussion in the U.S. people don't want passage of 230 at all. That is like if I'm -- more people say that the entire internet was built because thanks to that section.
I do understand that. But I think a lot has happened after that. These years, these platforms have I would say meta morphed into something else altogether. These are not those -- what do you call the pipes that just transmit content, dump pipes. They are much more than that. These platforms decide what each person speaks, what each person feels. So they are the arbiters of truth in some fashion at least.
And when they have a complete control over content, I think they also need to take of the responsibility for the content on these platforms.
I wouldn't say a complete -- what do you call it -- I mean we can't put liability on them for each and every thing. But at least when some major issue is happening, when content is flagged by people, yes, it is time for them to act, especially with content like hate speech which affects people on the ground. It's just not something on an online platform, it affects people on the ground.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Okay, people who are physically present, there is a microphone and if you have comments you can intervene from the floor there. Jump in if you have questions there.
Others if you want to say something, I see a lot of good names and really nice pictures. If you don't want to turn the video on, just unmute yourself and jump in, please.
So the point you are making is that the platforms have gone into something much bigger and something much different than what the early arts looked like and that is why -- those arguments which worked early on don't work.
And I think a point which Kris and Oliver had also made about the fact is that similar structures and checks and balances and power don't exist here. Certain democracies like Radhika says are still figuring out how to actually keep continuing to develop those structures.
But I'm going to say is that there are also several underlying factors that limit the effectiveness of government and technology companies to regulate what we call this problem of hate speech. I think we've seen misinformation, we have seen hate speech.
We are talking about whether it's in the Rohingya killings and now there are class action lawsuits being filed against Facebook Meta.
What I want to ask is that isn't that true that even good faith restrictions on online speech spark a debate about free speech and expression because the boundary between controversial opinions and violence inducing hate is not always clear. Even if something starts well intentioned and we want to say -- and I would say that some of us will be guilty of that -- we will start saying, oh, no, this is going to impact free speech and expression.
Then what happens is there is something, social media does provide anonymity and spread the information which becomes inherently difficult to regulate. Again, the problem here is we do like anonymity because it also helps a lot of people find themselves activists to do their job and there are various other ways we can do it.
Twitter as a platform likes anonymity. Facebook as a platform does not allow for anonymity.
And the third I want to just say is that political incentives also undermine how these are regulated. I think Oliver started with the fact that in our region hate speech is so effective -- you didn't say these words, but what you did say is because political parties are also involved and hate speech is effective in mobilizing people.
And it gets, it targets minority groups, and it becomes popular for the majority argument. And these factors create a strong disincentive for the politicians whose interest is just to drive the divide and get votes in one way.
Are we dealing with a problem which is just not solvable? And I would invite any of you to jump in instead of me cold calling you.
I'm really missing Neghat this time because we would have really benefitted to have a voice from Pakistan here and it would be good to have the discussion on the platform without any -- because the problems are the same no matter what our politicians would like us to believe across borders.
>> KRIS RUIJGROK: I can say something, Mishi, if I may. I think you made some great points actually that I can only agree with.
I think what the Facebook papers of Frances Haugen and of the documents that were released, what they show I think is that the government of India and Facebook actually need each other and help each other which makes it very hard to kind of get a foot -- to solve the problem of hate speech and how that might amplify societal conflict and those type of questions.
I think that what they clearly show is that the company needs the government to access the great market that India is. And on the other hand, the government uses Facebook to extend its control over information. At the same time it is great for micro targeting of voters, for instance, that that it uses the data to just like send out this one particular video or message to manipulate a voter to ultimately vote for the BJP.
So works I think both ways and that makes it very hard kind of to tackle the issue because there are only winners there if you look from the government perspective and from Facebook's perspective and actually very little incentive to do something about major problems that India as a democracy are suffering from at the implement, I think.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: And Kris, you studied other countries or other places and how do you see the same thing playing out there?
>> KRIS RUIJGROK: Well, I did my PhD research in Malaysia. What I have seen there is that the Malaysian market for a company like Facebook is less important which gives them more room to maneuver and to take a more firm stance towards the government of Malaysia and a more principled standing in that regard. And I think -- and what the Facebook papers have revealed very clearly and very as whistle blowers, not only Frances Haugen, but that India is a special case for Facebook because it is the greatest market and because they can't enter the Chinese market, as you said.
So they are very, very cautious for not getting into trouble with the current Indian government. And I think like the dynamic there is special because it is such an important market for Facebook. And in Malaysia they could take a more principled kind of stance because it was less important for them.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Great. Oliver?
>> OLIVER SPENCER: Yeah, I mean I think fundamentally when we talk about hate speech, I think it is important, first of all, to recognize that it is not new at all in any way. I mean you know, we are talking about India earlier and you could probably see quite a lot of similar trends in the partition period. And the same in Myanmar when they are going through the independence movement against the British.
I think one of the major issues in regards to the current climate is it's very much a binary argument. I have been working on this particular issue in Myanmar as mentioned earlier about today is $180 billion case under Section 230. I have been working on this issue for many years, and the main problem seems to be actually when we say hate speech it's -- obviously there is a long line between what is legal or what is awful, as was already said by Colin.
And clearly we also have to recognize that social media companies benefit from this emotive speech, that is part of their business model. So drawing a line between what is handful and not handful, legal and not legal, is very complex. Plus you've got all the mixed jurisdictions. But what is not so difficult is about using alternative measures are not just about deletions which is what the political discussion is generally always about. You know, dealing with prejudices of always forms have always involved large amounts of counter speech. And that is what we don't see much of from the social media companies.
We don't see them looking for more intelligent uses of their systems to be able to deal with this old issue of prejudice that has now spread and bloomed online under their particular algorithms.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Great. Colin?
>> COLIN HEYHURST: Yeah, thanks. I mean our view is that the fundamental problem is tracking and the collection of personal data because that leads to, you know, obviously it's about so the platforms can optimize their revenues which means adverts or content can be targeted which then leads to division.
So until reform is done on the collection and harvesting of personal data, the problems won't be solved. I mean it is fine to use impersonal data. I mean so if this might be for a region or time of the day or language setting that you have. But all of this targeting, whether it is in the feed or in advertising, it's all there behind that that targeting goes on and should be based just on impersonal data. So once it's based on personal data we'll never solve this problem.
Transparency won't fix it. I mean it would help, it would be very helpful. You know, content moderation will help but it won't fix it. Until we get use of personal data it will never be solved.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Well, there is an alliance about using privacy as well as antitrust law and not just rely on content moderation.
Colin, do you want to tell us what is your business model because the others perhaps they all need personal data to then make money.
>> COLIN HAYHURST: Yeah, so we're an independent international search engine so we're -- but we don't use any personal data.
So, you know, the search results for somebody in the same place at the same time, the same language setting, they'll get exactly the same results rather than the results being based on your search history or anything that we -- like Google or Microsoft collect about you either directly or through their so-called privacy search engines partners -- sorry, they are not search engines. They're actually syndication partners of Bing. So we're the only actual international search engine that doesn't track sadly.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: And which one are you?
>> COLIN HAYHURS t: Mosaic.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Okay. Well, there is a plug for Colin.
We don't have much time left, but I'm going to move to Prasanth. And I would like us to discuss a little bit here. I know that it is in the collective that we find reservoirs of open optimism. I didn't say it, one of the activists on my shirt said it.
I'm going to now try and figure it out that how do we find this hope and optimism and build alliances? And what are the problems we are facing in the global south which we can't rely on our friends and allies in the global north to fight for us? What do we need, how do we band together?
Because everybody seems to be fighting their own battles right now because there is a race to the bottom about how to break the internet. Whether it is the U.S. or UK or authoritarian regimes or India or democracies like ours. So Prasanth, let's start with you.
>> PRASANTH SUGATHAN: Definitely there is a need, whether it is the global south for the civil society to work together. So, as you said earlier, whatever are the bad models, the bad examples, that gets copied easily. So the bad laws get very -- I would say easily copied. When you talk about laws that only would mention about what we inherited from the colonial past, those are still there, those are bad laws like tradition.
If it comes to this year there are new laws being passed, whether it is by India or by Brazil. So there are like a lot of things in comments.
For example, something like the permission to trace, let's say, the person who sends a message on social media on a platform like WhatsApp. Similar discussions are happening in Brazil, let's say and in India. In India you already have a law.
So when something like that happens, there is -- I would say there is a need for civil society to work together, form coalitions. Yes, the modalities of it we definitely can discuss. But I would say the issue that we are facing in the global south are more or less the same.
Specifically with respect to the hate speech issues, I think whether it is in let's Myanmar or Bangladesh or India or Pakistan, we have similar issues. There could be a really good -- to the details of it there could be a little bit of differences, but yes, there are racial issues, there are religious issues.
And the way the government tackles these issues I would say are also the same across South Asia. And also we would find similar let's say responses by the government in southeast Asia.
So definitely we have civil problems, and I would say the responses from the civil society should be collective and working together. But I don't really have answers as to how we can do it. So yes, I'm open to hearing from others also on how we can take this forward.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: We have the very little time left, and I do not know how much time we will get.
But down to Chris, Oliver, and then as it should be, a young woman from the global south should have the last word and so will Radhika. But Kris and Oliver and then Radhika.
>> KRIS RUIJGROK: Maybe Oliver can go first, I can think for a bit.
>> OLIVER SPENCER: Yeah, sure, I feel a bit bad taking away Radhika's time.
So the way it works in Myanmar, I think our experience has been that basically change is about this sort of triangle. And on this triangle, on the one corner you've got government. On another corner you've got civil society. And on the third corner is the business which is really tech but broader than that.
And the trick for solving any of these issues is to make sure that you have got two of these three corners. When it came to dealing with current issues, the coup, obviously civil society and the business community have tried to defeat the military's attempts to control digital environment.
In the past, it was the government and civil society, and these are changing. But the trick is to make sure that you can mobilize at least two of the three communities because that is the only way of balancing and winning over the power of the third.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Okay, Very quickly, Kris and Radhika, I have been told we have barely a minute left.
>> KRIS RUIJGROK: Okay. I'm not in civil society so I don't know anything really about fighting for the actual change. I'm more in the ivory tower thinking about how society works as a scientist.
What I think is very important is not to think about these problems as technical problems but rather than as political problems that require a political solution.
Facebook and these companies tend to present problems surrounding hate speech as technical problems that can be solved by better artificial intelligence and I truly believe that it requires oftentimes a political solution rather than a technical one.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Great. Radhika, very quickly, please.
>> RADHIKA JHALANI: To be brief, internet was envisioned to be borderless and the solutions to prevent it from breaking up should also be borderless. It is important that civil societies, whether in the global south or global north should come together and find solutions together.
>> MISHI CHOUDHARY: Great. Sometimes we have to do the work even though we don't yet see a glimmer on the horizon that it's going to be possible. Again, a stolen quote because I like other people who have done the work and who have shown us the path that when it seems impossible, we still have to keep plowing through.
Thank you for joining. This is just coming up on everybody's horizon in a way. And to some of us who have been working on this for 10 to 15 years it seems the conversations never change, but the problems keep rising.
Thanks, everybody, for joining. Please support the fight no matter which part of the world you are because the race to the bottom is on. And we need to preserve the open nature of the internet.
Thanks, everybody. Thanks everyone from Poland who joined us and the IGF team and everyone for putting this together and Kris and Oliver and everyone else who decided not to show us your great beautiful faces but at least joined us from here or anyone who is watching.
Join the good fight and support in whatever way you can the fight to keep the internet free and open.