Freedom of expression may shrink further in Egypt where lawmakers have approved the first reading of a bill that would monitor popular social media users in the name of combating “false news”.
Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have become one of the last forums for public debate in Egypt since a November 2013 ban on all but police-approved gatherings.
In Egypt, more than 500 websites have so far been blocked, according to the Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).
On June 10, parliament gave preliminary approval of the bill, pending a final reading and then ratification by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Under the bill, internet users with at least 5,000 followers would be placed under the supervision of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Media Regulation.
The council, known for its criticism of foreign media and television programmes accused of violating public morals, would oversee “every personal website, blog or electronic account of any person with 5,000 followers or more”.
It would also have the right to suspend or block such accounts if they “publish or broadcast false news” or information inciting “breaking the law, violence or hatred”.
“Every citizen will think 1,000 times before they can write a post in which they criticise the action of the government or the regime,” said Mohamed Abdelsalam, director of research at AFTE.
He urged social media companies to “reject the practices of the Egyptian government and stand on the side of the rights (of citizens) and civil society organisations”.
In its defence, parliament’s media committee head Osama Heikal said that “electronic accounts have widespread access, more than some newspapers”.
Egypt, which ranks 161st out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), was “not the first country to go in that direction”.