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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

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest.

Why it matters: The atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, was causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood, as it slowly moved south overnight. It's triggered widespread power outages, flooding and mudslides.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

U.S. threatens to cut aid to Sudan after military takeover

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok during a 2020 news conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Sudan's civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was put under house arrest and several other ministers were detained Monday in what appears to be a military coup in the country, per local reports.

The latest: The head of the military faction of the Sudanese government, Gen. Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, said in a statement that he is announcing a state of emergency, suspending several parts of the interim constitution and dissolving the civilian government and interim sovereignty council — the highest governing body in the country.

Facebook's pivotal week

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

They're battening down the hatches at Facebook headquarters this week as the company faces a trifecta of tumult: a continuing wave of negative press coverage fueled by document leaks, a critical earnings report Monday and a reported name change looming.

The big picture: All this is unfolding as Mark Zuckerberg tries to transform Facebook from a social network into the prime mover behind a new "metaverse" of VR- and AR-driven remote work and play.