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Sisi is watching, in Cairo. Photo: Amar Makar/AFP/Getty Images

A law passed by Egypt's parliament this week means that anyone with more than 5,000 social media followers will be treated like a media company under the country’s strict media laws, which make it a crime to engage in vaguely defined bad behavior, like inciting law-breaking or publishing false information.

Why it matters: What the Egyptian government portrays as a strike against fake news, critics see a further muzzling of speech in a country that routinely jails journalists and scores near the bottom of global press freedom rankings. And there’s a broader trend at work here: governments around the world are attempting to control the flow of subversive information (however they define it) through their societies.

Many countries, including Egypt, have adopted a technocratic approach to information control: by passing laws (and in China’s case, implementing sophisticated censorship systems) that regulate online speech, governments can not only clamp down on specific threats, they create a broader chilling effect that encourages self-censorship.

Then there’s the blunt-force option: disconnecting the internet to stop rumors and protests from spreading.

  • Shutoffs have serious downsides: for one, they’re expensive, since many people now depend on the internet for their livelihoods.
  • But they are a popular tool across parts of Africa, where English speaking regions of Cameroon were cut off from internet for much of last year, as well as in India, where authorities have pulled the plug more than 170 times since 2012, most often in anticipation of public unrest in specific regions of the country.

Finally, there is Russia’s favored approach: undermine trust in information by pushing out so much disinformation that people don’t know what to believe.

  • It’s a slow-burn strategy that’s been supercharged by the rise of social media and is now being weaponized and exported to the West.
  • So far, the U.S. and U.K. have resisted passing new laws aimed at stamping out fake news, but Germany, which has a history of censoring hate speech, has adopted the technocratic approach. Last year, it passed a law that threatens websites that fail to quickly delete material that contains incitements to hatred or crime, slander, or other verboten content or face stiff fines.

What to watch: If fake news rocks the 2018 U.S. midterms, more democracies may decide they have no choice but to follow Germany’s lead.

Sign up for Signal, a twice-weekly newsletter from GZERO Media, a Eurasia Group company, and follow @KevinAllison on Twitter.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.